We actually started early today. No more hot days for us. Mind you , the weather is much milder over this side of O'Cebreiro. The country is greener. The food is definitely tastier. The service so far seems better too. All in all things are looking up. We are getting closer to Santiago. Blisters are predominantly gone. Pain is such an old friend it barely gets a second thought.
American John left our pension just before us. When we rounded the first corner out of town he was there looking a bit lost. He said he was okay. He had a bike he had bought his cheap French bike in Burgos. He found it hard walking as he'd had two knee replacements. He did not look like most of the bike riders. He didn't wear lycra, I'm quite confident he didn't do the sort of stretches I had witnessed in the Logrono albergue either. He struggled getting the bike and his rather large pack up the fairly steep hill out of town. We played leap frog for a while. We had a few jokes with him as we made our way through the forest track. At one point when he was stopped puffing and sweating holding his bike, my beloved offered to take it off his hands at the top of the hill.
We saw some young ladies with clipboards coming towards us. We thought they were doing a petition to have more funds for deaf people. Our youngest son was deaf among his many problems. I was happy to sign the petition. As I was filling it out I realised they wanted money. The paper looked a bit odd – it was photocopied – the first two entries apparently donated 25 euro each. We weren't going to donate that without some sort of verification. The Spanish couple we kept meeting came up and said “Be careful. They are gypsies”. We kept our money and moved on. Funny, I had read about these people before starting this trip but we had been fortunate thus far not to have encountered any of the con artists along the trail. Lucky our Spanish friends were nearby. We had been so focused on the more serious problems such as the American girl who had gone missing in April, the lady that was hit by a car, the 35 year old who had a heart attack going up O'Cebreiro last week – we had forgotten there were con artists to watch out for. Thank heavens for our Spanish friends.
Finally we reached the top, John was nowhere in sight now. We started down a straight long stretch and as we descended we could see in the distance what looked to be a bike across the road. There were a couple of people moving back and forth. I said to husband “I hope thats not our friend down there, I think he's come off his bike.” We kept walking. As we got closer we could see someone sitting on the side and another person crossing the road. Husband suggested I take a picture of the magnificent view to our right. We were up quite high still. It was a distraction for a moment. But as we kept going the event unfolded.
It was John. He was in a dreadful mess. A young american girl was calling an ambulance, the Spanish man we had been seeing with his wife, took over the phone. The young American girl's brother was trying to dress Johns head. A Canadian lady we had also been meeting was trying to keep John talking. I fumbled in my bag for the last gauze pack I had. John directed them to his first aid kit in his pack. Husband wheeled the bike off the road. Others stood around in shock and in solidarity. I tried to use my phone apps to give a location for the Spanish man talking to the ambulance. Everyone wanted to help. There was not much we could do but wait. Husband offered to take photos with Johns camera so John would know what happened. John reached into his pocket and gave him his camera. None of us would leave until he was in good hands. He had hit the ground with his head. His limbs were covered in blood too. He was conscious and talking. No doubt in shock. There was a fairly large pot hole a little way before. He had probably hit it first. He said his brakes had failed. He had no helmet on. He had a heavy pack on his back. It was amazing he was conscious. He kept talking. The Canadian lady kept asking him questions like where do you live, why did you come here, when did you start etc etc
We could hear horns in the distance – soon a car zoomed up the road and stopped – it wasn't the ambulance – it was a breadman. Breadmen are always driving around tooting in Spain. Bread is served with every meal. Even with sandwiches. Bread supply is clearly important in Spain. This was not his emergency today.
Soon the ambulance came. They were wonderful. They were concerned John had a serious head injury. He was in good hands. We hope he comes through okay. We had only seen him for the first time that morning. We all discussed what to do with his bike. He said whatever you do – don't ride it. He said he didn't care what happened to his bike. We left it there. Some local might find a use for it. John's Camino was probably over. He had come all the way from France like us. He was so close. I hope they give him a Compostella when he gets better. I hope he doesn't ride a bike again. He said he was 68 years old. He was from the States. We hope he is okay.
Our early start didn't turn out so early after all.
We finally headed into Sarria in the heat of the day. There was another river to cross.
There were more fish.
Sarria is the Camino beginning for thousands of people each year – it is about 112km from Santiago. If you walk only the last 100km you are eligible for your certificate. The city was supposed to be full of services, tour buses and new people. We were prepared for the change and had booked a couple of ks further on but we needed food. So we stopped for lunch where the New Zealanders we had met a day or two before were eating. The lady recommended a Chicken Salad. It was fantastic. The service was slow.
The nice Spanish couple passed us and said goodbye. They were doing the Camino in sections each year. Today they had finished their section and were heading home to Barcelona. The young American brother and sister were going to head on to our destination.
Our destination was 3km's on at Barbelo. They have a pool and Shirley and her husband were going to meet us there. I know there are some pilgrims who think pools are turning the Camino into a resort. It's never going to be a resort when you are walking 20 or 30kms. They should see some of the pools I've seen. No filter, icy cold water, purely for hydrotherapy. The first therapist in Pamplona told me to put my feet in cold water every time I have the chance. Anyway the original “hospitals” were built to care for sick and injured pilgrims. Our hospitals at home often have pools for hydrotherapy. It's an excellent cure for overheating, fluid buildup etc etc. The pool at Barbadelo wasn't too cold. It was just right – it was excellent therapy.
We had a nice evening with the lovely Shirley and Steven from Portland Oregon. Shirley and Steven had also encountered the gypsies in a different location. She thought they were doing a survey too. Pity we are always so tired. It was still wonderful to swap tales of our adventures. Shirley is an inspiration. When her husband arrived she traveled backwards to Ponferrado to meet him and then her friends moved on. So she leap frogged forward. She has been to Santiago in order to catch up with friends and already received her Compostela but had missed a couple of places and was doubling back before flying home. Why not? It may have confused a few pilgrims with them going the other way. Whenever we see someone walking towards us we ask them if we are on the right track. We usually are but sometimes we blindly follow people down the wrong path. It's like life really. Anyway fortunately for us they were able to reach Barbelo on the same day as us. They were off home tomorrow and it would be sad not to have Shirley in front of us anymore. We had been keeping in touch via email and it was lovely to have a friend in front whom we knew we might even see again and she had also been a great source of advice over the last few weeks.
Whilst having a couple of drinks we mentioned the Korean we had noticed had been defacing the yellow arrows along the way. Initially we weren't too concerned but then we started noticing almost every arrow had this name written on it. Well we assumed it was a Korean name as it was not written in a European language and it did not seem Japanese. The only other Asian people who were common on the Camino were Korean. Boy were we wrong! Apparantly it was a Buddhist chant being written by a lovely Venezuelan lady – Buddhist chants are used in meditation to help you find peace or nirvana! She was trying to spread peace – we were becoming annoyed at the graffiti! If it had of been om mani padmi om we would not have blamed some poor Korean. We must apologise to all the Koreans out there. Especially if your name is Nam Miojo Fengue Kio!
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