Only 696.7km to Santiago!
Brierley’s guidebook tells me that Puente la Reina (the Queen’s Bridge) is named after Doña Mayor, wife of Sancho the 3rd. “She commanded the magnificent Romanesque bridge to be built to support the safe movement of the increasing number of midieval pilgrims who joined the route at this stage from both the camino francés and camino aragonés.” I have no head for remembering the dates and details of history, but I’m surprisingly tender about the building of the bridge – she built it for pilgrims hundreds of years ago and there I was, getting to use it hundreds of years later. Cheers, Doña Mayor!
I had to cross this bridge to get to my albergue on the far side of town. Descending from Alto del Perdón, I’d walked with Kevin and Liz for a few hours, discussing the problem of exploding water melons in China, but we had parted ways en route. By the time I got into town, I’d spent the last hour getting wet in the rain, and feeling the cold water drip from my raincoat down my shorts, my bare legs, my socks and hiking sandals.
I needed to find somewhere to stay and change into my long (and thankfully, dry) hiking pants, but learned that the first hostel I approached was already full.
So was the second one.
I worried about getting stranded again and especially in the cold rain – I didn’t have the option of sleeping outdoors. People talked about a third hostel on the far side of town. It was an extra 1.1km and dozens of us stepped through the narrow cobblestone streets to find our way. The rain was truly bucketing down on us by then, with flashes of lightning across the sky. Wherever we were going, we needed to get there quickly and hope for the best.
The albergue holds up to 100 people and it was spacious and modern. It even had an outdoor swimming pool, though it wasn’t at all tempting in the middle of a lightening storm. The design of the building (with plastic door handles and indoor picnic tables) reminded me of public swimming pools and large-scale youth hostels – it was built to ‘get us in, get us a bed, and get us out again’ with swift efficiency. The place had no soul. It did, however, have available beds and a roof, so I was guaranteed a dry place to sleep for the night.
I picked my bed in the corner (lower bunk, nice) and laid my sleeping gear out on the bed, put my water bottle down by the side, and left some small belongings on the pillow to mark the space as mine. I didn’t wanted to leave out anything that might be stolen, but I needed to mark my territory (so to speak). Bottom bunk beds are in high demand among people with very sore feet, and this bottom bunk was clearly taken.
The guy in the bunk above me must have been nearly 7 feet tall – a Swede, I think – and liked to narrate his movements.
Now we take this out of the bag and put it here…
Oh and that must go over there..
And we fold that up and put it like this for later…
On and on, for twenty minutes, he narrated his every move.
The guy seemed harmless enough but he challenged me about stretching my hamstrings. He proudly declared that he never did any stretches and he was fine.
Did I ask for your commentary? Did I ask for your judgement? No, I don’t think I did.
But clearly, I was a wuss.
He hung his wet rain pants from the frame of his (upper) bunk bed. In a room with 20 other people it wasn’t the smartest move – we all had wet clothes and the collective dripping meant the floor was already slippery and wet. But he had failed to notice that his pants weren’t dripping down on to the floor – they were dripping directly onto my mattress. I was only a few days into the whole Camino but already I’d become a bit tetchy about my bed space. God knows, it was hard enough to come by. It was a small token of personal space in a chaotic stream of people, and I felt a bit sensitive about protecting that small boundary line between me and the hundreds around me.
A few mornings previously in Zabaldika, I’d been awoken by some woman actually sitting on my legs, while I was still in bed, fast asleep! She’d been trying to put on her pants and decided to do so sitting down. My bed was the closest thing to sit on so she used me as her stool. She didn’t even aim for the corner or the end of the mattress – she plonked herself right in the middle, squashing my legs, and woke me with an almighty start and a growl. I bolted upright, she lost her balance, and she fell all over me, while I struggled to figure out what was happening. Whatever about being woken by LED torches, chatter, and the zipping backpacks, this was a new low. Handsome Husband will tell you I’m not a morning person, and this woman did herself no favours by waking me up so suddenly. She limply apologised but I was furious at being awoken in such a careless way – no wonder I needed a private room in Pamplona!
So, I was a bit tetchy about bed space, and I didn’t appreciate the Swede’s lack of attention with his rain pants. I took the liberty of readjusting them, and went about my business, having a shower and finding some dinner. I didn’t want the confrontation and instead, decided to walk away.
An hour later, I returned to my room only to find some old guy sitting on my bed. I’m guessing he was in his 70s, brown as a nut, and bald as an egg. The shape of his veins and muscles was clearly visible, and he looked like he was all sinew and gristle. He was wet, sitting there in his green shorts and t-shirt, dripping water onto my bed, as he pulled the dead skin from his feet and popped his fluid-filled blisters. He smelled of rancid sweat – at least a few days’ worth – and of unwashed clothes. The wet boots and socks were strewn on the floor beside him, and his water bottle, sleeping bag, and clothing were spread across the mattress behind him.
<This blog is going to a public audience and I don’t want to upset anyone so you can insert your own expletive here!>
My sleeping gear was nowhere in sight. My water bottle was gone. My belongings that had laced the pillow only an hour earlier, were gone.
This guy had taken my bed.
I didn’t hesitate in confronting him.
This is my bed. What are you doing here, where is my stuff?
He looked at me blankly. He spoke no English and hadn’t a clue what I was saying. I didn’t have enough Spanish and didn’t care about his blank gaze. I was livid. The cheek of him, stealing my bed!
Again I challenged him: What are you doing? This is my bed! Where is my sleeping gear? Where are my things? This is my bed!
Goddammit but I walked more than 25km for that bed – some of it in the rain. It was mine – I’d earned it fair and square, and I wasn’t giving it up for anyone.
Christian generosity, indeed!
He continued to feign ignorance, but I found my belongings thrown to the side and gestured that they had actually been on the bed to begin with. I could see the understanding sweep across his face.
Ah, those are her things.
So this must be her bed.
She knows that I moved her things.
She knows I took her bed.
Okay, I’ll move.
He took his time as he reluctantly packed up his bits, and gave me a few dirty looks in the process. He didn’t appreciate a witch like myself hunting him out. I’d never heard of anyone on Camino stealing someone else’s bed, and I wasn’t going to let him start a tradition with me.
Take my bed? This means war.
I can put up with a lot of things but I won’t put up with this. I’m a big fan of watching out for fellow pilgrims but sorry, this is a step too far. This time, I’m watching out for myself.
The Camino is a great opportunity for human connection and humble gratitude, sure.
In my case, it was also a great opportunity to get tough!