The last kilometres in Andalucía, the first of many in Extremadura, and more bike trouble – all in one day
Leaving Almadén, I felt well rested and ready to take on the day of cycling ahead of me. I had breakfast in the local café with Pablo, a young policeman who was also cycling the camino. He was on a tight schedule because he needed to be back at work in a week or so. While I had my bocadillo con jamón and coffee, it was still relatively dark outside – certainly darker than you’d expect a Mediterranean country on a spring morning. On the television, the news was dominated by the arrest of Carles Puigdemont, which had happened a few days earlier.
This was to be my last day in Andalucía, since I would soon be crossing into Extremadura.
Once on the bike, without the cement beneath my mudguards, I felt free and fast as I cruised downhill through the chilly morning air. Until, a couple of kilometres in, I didn’t; something was holding me back. I stopped by the side of the road to see what was wrong, and in the meantime Pablo passed by. He asked if he should hang around; I told him not to wait up.
It turned out that when braking, the rear wheel started shifting to the left. I thought I hadn’t tightened the bolts tight enough, so, in a village just outside Almadén, I propped the bike upside down, and realigned the dropouts, using a spanner I bought from the ironmonger’s right across the road.
While doing so, the Basque family that I’d befriended in the first days passed me by. They’d left the albergue after me, and here I was, struggling to get my dream bike to work like a normal bike, one that didn’t get in the way of my trip.
With each pedal stroke, both my body and my bike were getting in my way.
A couple of Fanta limóns later, I was back on my way. I remember stopping to make more adjustments, on different parts of the bike (to the point that Sergio remarked that I was more of a bike mechanic than anything else).
I got to Monesterio, with its punishing hill and storks nesting in the belltowers of the village church. On the side of the church hung a large banner with the image of a young woman. To this day, I’m not entirely sure what it was about.
This is also where I bid my Basque friends goodbye – if everything had gone to plan I wouldn’t have met them since they were on a more relaxed schedule than I was, and even though I wish things had gone to plan, I’m glad that I did.
I’m not entirely sure that I took the right route going out of Monesterio. What I am sure of is that it was magical: a crystal clear example of why I was doing this trip. I was cycling over a waterside path, with fields, trees and cattle around me, and a stream flowing past. The moon was out, and this idyllic scene was one of the most enduring images I remember from my camino.
When I first drafted this post, I thought that all I remembered from this day was the bike repair, all the stopping, starting and the resulting emotional distress. But looking back at the pictures from the day, I was surprised to remember that so much more happened.
Just last night (I’m writing this in August 2019, well over a year since I did this trip), while reading Erling Kagge’s book “Walking: One Step at a Time”, I came across the notion, not entirely new to me, that somewhat counterintuitively, when travelling slowly, time expands and you can take more in than while travelling by car or by plane, in which long distances blur into each other. I find this to be very true in my case. My job as a translator entails whole working days at my desk, with little to no variation in the kind of task, let alone the scenery. When I travel, I surprise myself with how many things I can do in just one day.
When I got to the albergue in Fuente de Cantos, there was no one at the reception. I rung a bell, and a young boy in a tracksuit came down to check me in. I paid using a 50 euro bill, and, without saying much, the boy ran up and away, out of sight. I thought I’d just been swindled by a random kid in a tracksuit. It turns out he went up to his mother, who gave me my change and showed me to my room.
There was a Dutch girl at the hostel, as well as a guy with long hair. Over the course of the evening, while I downed glasses of lemonade (I think it was Kas) and tried to fill the bottomless pit that was my stomach, the two seemed to grow closer and closer, locking eyes, sitting across each other at the table, holding hands.
It was the Semana Santa when I got there, and outside the albergue/convent people were assembling to take part in a procession, which started around sundown. Being Maltese, I’m no stranger to religious processions accompanied by brass bands, but though similar, this was different to what I was used to. The tunes were mournful, the drumming was severe and mechanical, and the procession went on for ages.