Elvis is definitely in the building.

Day 25 – 11th October 2015, Calzadillos de los Hermanillos to Mansilla de las Mulas.

Hello friends!

Do you ever get that feeling when you wake up, you think you are still asleep and dreaming, because you don’t remember where you are?  Well, this morning was one of those mornings. I opened my eyes and didn’t recognise where I was at first. After some time walking the Camino and staying in a different place every night, I discovered how easy it is to lose track of days, the time and even where I am. Then, I remembered, as the room came into a hazy focus (I did not have my contact lenses in) and my throbbing feet and vibrating legs reminded me I was somewhere on the old Roman Road. Yes, in the lovely Albergue Via Trajana in a huge, comfy bed, in a quiet room. What utter bliss to have slept through the night, undisturbed by grumpy snorers from hell! And how very hard it was to stir my aching limbs to get out from under the duvet and orientate them towards the hot shower. Eventually, I pulled myself and my pack together and hobbled down the stairs to join the motley throng of pilgrims in the dining room. Chris and Tim joined me at  table, as they had come back up from the municipal hostel. Behind us sat a large tableful of pilgrims, including some gals who were trying to share out their bag of healthy granola because they didn’t want to carry it any more. Bless!

After breakfast, Chris, Tim and I launched ourselves into the cool, morning air and the murky, mist and mizzle. I could see Tias and his companions some way up ahead. Although I got off to a good start, I began to lag behind the others. My body felt exhausted and I relished some time to walk in relative solitude now and again to recharge my batteries. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy meeting people, making new friends and hearing stories but as a natural introvert (more than an extrovert), I valued the moments when I could walk in silence and not have to talk to anyone. Also, these brief periods of contemplation became more important to me as my journey unfolded so that I could reflect on the precious moments I spent with mum at her end of life and I dared to think ahead to the next stage of my life. Gratitude flooded into my heart and buoyed me up to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

Ok so here’s another nerdy fact alert coming up! Having reached Calzadilla de los Hermanillos yesterday, after a reasonably flat but punishing slog of 26.5 km, I now only have approximately 354.8 km (or 220.5 miles) to walk until I reach Santiago de Compostela. There, that doesn’t sound too bad does it? Especially not, if you say it quickly! Oh, but then I realised that my journey does not end there. My intention is to walk on to Finisterre and then Muxia on the coast, if my poor old legs will carry me by then! This means another 115 km or so to walk after Santiago…and therefore I’m not really at the half way point of my pilgrimage…but I am not dismayed, noooo I will get there!

I think Calzadilla de los Hermanillos means the ‘little road of the ‘little brothers’, which conjures up images of strolling along the yellow brick road surrounded by Munchkins or ambling around the tiny weeny streets of Lilliput with Gulliver. My destination today was Mansilla de las Mulas, approximately 25 km away. I tried to find a direct translation of this name. Mansilla with an ‘s’ seemed to be a proper name, whereas when it is spelled with a ‘c’ means stain or blemish. I assume then, that Mansilla de las Mulas means the fine person called ‘Mansilla of the mules’. This is far better than the stain of the mules, because, to me, that would indicate something not to far from mule poo…and who would want to visit anywhere called mule poo? (Incidentally, another nerdy fact for you, there happens to be a Spanish municipality called Poo, which is one of nine parishes in Cabrales, Asturias….fancy that…err…actually I don’t).

Oh I am so sorry, I digress. The way today was in fact bleak. The landscape, cloaked in mist was reminiscent of a scene from Wuthering Heights (if a somewhat more level version).  I imagined I could hear the faint strains of Kate Bush‘s inimitable vocals calling out “Heathcliff, it’s me your Kathy, I’ve come home-a, I’m so cold. Let me in-a-your window”. Indeed, I was feeling  tad chilly that morning, even in my borrowed tangerine rain poncho. The Roman road continued to pose a challenge to my feet, alternating between puddles and gloopy patches of thick, clayey-like mud and stones, which were a right pain in the instep! “Slip slidin’ away….slip slidin’ away…you know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip slidin’ away” (Paul Simon). Its funny how I think in song lyrics sometimes. I wonder what your sound track to your Camino journey is? Chris, Tim and I soon found a way round the slip-slidy-gloopy-stodgy patches –  literally, we veered off the path into the neighbouring field to walk on top of the decaying stalks of the past season’s crop, until that too became a quagmire.

We were supposed to be walking along the green, more rural and picturesque route, but I wasn’t totally convinced by the views, which became grim nearer the train line. A little further on though we could see the encouraging signs of a settlement in the distance and slightly off to our right. This must be Reliegos. The word on pilgrim-street was there’s a cute and quirky bar known as the Elvis bar, which is worth a gander, so we decided to track it down. Reliegos isn’t a huge place but finding the bar took a few minutes because it is also known as Bar Torres (Tower Bar) and the Blue Bar, but really, all we had to do was follow the pilgrims, who seemed to ‘home’ in on the Elvis ‘vibes’. Homing pigeons we are not, but I have observed how naturally and easily we pilgrims manage to sniff out a good thing. The collective Camino-consciousness is powerful indeed!

A few steps down a slight slope from the village entrance and off to the left a bit, we strolled along, following some yellow arrows on the road. There before us stood the Elvis/Blue/Tower bar, bright aqua blue, emblazoned in colourful graffiti, its unblinking green eyes staring down upon us, as if to challenge us to venture inside. So we did. Hard not to really. We could hear the boom, boom beats of rock n’ roll tempting us to tap our feet and swivel those hips all the way up to bar. The inside was weirder than the outside. An eclectic collection of national flags, post cards, photos of rock n’ roll and R&B stars, knick knacks and messages graffitied all over the walls assaulted the eye balls. Elvis was definitely in the building. What is it about pilgrims and the Camino that turns ordinary folk into vandals? Is there such a thing as ‘spiritual vandalism’ whereby the act of defacing a surface can be redeemed by the content of the artistic form presented? Pilgrim intentions might be noble and spiritual to share their personal stories, poems, mantras and words of motivation and encouragement to fellow travellers. I guess Banksy is a veritable example of street art, not only being aesthetic but containing powerful messages to spur people into action.

The bar owner didn’t seem to mind. Eusignio Prieto, also known as “Sinin”, seemed to be a man of very few words, a bushy grey beard and lightening quick hands. Honestly, I could not see his hands move, they were a blur, while he worked the bar, poured the beer, made the coffee and sliced an enormous leg of Serrano ham like his life depended on it. I would like to bet that he could well be the fastest ham-carver in the west. The bar certainly had an air of a wild west saloon about it, although I doubt there would be gunfights at high noon because they would interfere with siesta time. Chris, Tim and I propped up the bar and ordered some food. I had skipped second breakfast and my trusty stomach alien noticed the omission. To make amends, I tucked into a gigantic Manchego cheese bocadillo, which was about as long as my forearm. Yummy! What a priceless combination. A mega-cheese sarnie, a cafe con leche and rock n’ roll in the company of pilgrims. You can tell I’m easily pleased…

At this point, my artistic licence permits me to shamelessly include the lyrics to one of my favourite songs performed by a black-leather-clad Elvis Presley, during his 1968 come back tour. “If I can dream”, by Walter Earl Brown, seems very appropriate to my Camino journey so far, especially the last verse.

If I can dream

There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true

There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away
All the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won’t that sun appear

We’re lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We’re trapped in a world
That’s troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly

Deep in my heart there’s a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there’s a beckoning candle
And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream, please let my dream
Come true, right now
Let it come true right now
Oh yeah

Walter Earl Brown, sung by Elvis Presley.

It’s a good one isn’t it? Sated from our larger-than-life sandwiches, our happy but tired band of three, bade goodbye to the Elvis bar, Mr “Sinin” and fellow pilgrims and resumed our walk to Mansilla de las Mulas.  A few clicks later we rolled into the town. Fortunately, my friend Laurie, somewhere upstream on the Camino, had tipped me off again, this time about the wonderful Albergue Gaia on the edge of town. I decided to head there and spotted a poster on a stone wall pointing the way – a sign from the Universe. Chris and Tim also came along. The building seemed nondescript from the outside but on entering the atmosphere was warm, gentle and welcoming, generated by the friendly owners. Soothing sounds of Enya played in reception, dancing along with curls of incense smoke. The albergue was lovely, new and clean. Dorms of eight were decked out in lime green and slate grey. The kitchen and bathrooms all had mod cons. Sorted.

After the usual routine of bagging a bunk, unpacking, showering and doing some hand washing, I set off into town to explore. Unsurprisingly, the local church was shut at this time of day but the cafes were open. I wandered up the narrow cobbled streets and soon came to a group of pilgrims I recognised – Janie, Dale, Shelley, Mary, Una and Mary, Bonnie and Roisin. It was like being reunited with long lost family members. Hugs all around.

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I sat and chatted with them for a while and a few of us made arrangements to meet up for dinner. In between, I also bumped into the Four Pissed Pilgrims and joined them for a drink (mine was a coffee) before I met up with the others at a taverna, a short distance up the street from the municipal albergue, that served excellent mixed plates for 7 euros. I cannot remember its name but it was one of the few places open before 8pm! And so ended another rockin’ n’ rollin’ day on the Camino.

Find out what happened next…

Peace, love and light,

Sarah xxx

 

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