Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Lesser Joys of the Camino

Today began with the discovery at 3 am that I was covered with bites, presumably from the bedding in the Hotel Casa Benilde in Palas de Rei. Loyal readers will remember this happened before. The pattern seems to be being booked into a tiny single room at a price significantly reduced from a double. Most hotels just don’t have these 8 x 9 rooms, and put a single into a regular-size room, with or without a modest discount for booking a single. But, runs my inductive surmise, when a hotel does have a limited number of much smaller and substantially cheaper single rooms, they are radically more likely to be booked by on-the-cheap pilgrims moving up from albergues for one night with a private bath and a good clean-up in a hotel – and what pilgrims are more in need of that than those who have encountered the frequent bedbug problems in their latest albergue(s)? And who’s most likely to bring a few (or many) critters with them?
Regardless of whether my theory holds, there I was, covered with red, itching welts. I packed as hastily as one can (1) in an 8 x 9 room where you don’t want to put anything on the bed, and (2) where the hallway makes a poor staging area because the light turns off automatically 20 seconds after you push the switch 20 feet away. Went downstairs, where the fellow on duty said, in response to my pointing to a few visible welts, “No bugs. Window open.” The defense seemed to be that a squadron of mosquitoes had somehow escaped the October frosts and flown in my window to strafe my stomach while I was sleeping on it.
Sensing that this was going to be an unproductive dialog even if I woke up a translator, I simply set off for today’s destination in ArzĂșa, 20 miles away, along the N-547 since it was too dark for the Camino, which wove back and forth along the same route. I discovered several things hiking through the Spanish night. First, and most interesting, the plaza in Melide, my halfway point, had substantially more life at 6 a.m. than I’ve seen anywhere else in Spain at 9 p.m. Indeed, the throngs were thicker than Reykjavik in June at the same hour, supposedly the all-night partying capital of the world. And substantially more sober and better behaved. Not just groups of guys, but lots of couples. (Melide is the octopus capital of Spain for reasons I don’t understand – being 100 miles inland – and I’d wanted hugely to have octopus Galician style at a pulperĂ­a for lunch, the only real casualty of my pre-dawn travels.)
Second, the barking of large, deep-throated dogs is substantially more threatening in the dark than when you can see they’re safely behind high fences. Finally, there is a lot more traffic than you’d expect on a secondary Spanish road at 4 a.m., and it all seems to go 80+ miles an hour, rain or no rain (I guess hydroplaning hasn’t reached Spain).
I’m now settled in double room in a hotel for low-rent Spanish road warriors on the N-547, half a mile plus off the Camino, having refined my room selection model somewhat. Having washed everything that could conceivably have come in contact with the Casa Benilde and taking three showers using up all the soap and shampoo in the tray – a determined effort to leave the bedbugs in Spain – I feel much better after sloshing into town (it’s been raining seriously through all this) for an excellent lunch of caldo gallego and hake Galician style.
Alas, no pictures today. I reflexively took a dozen or so shots of the most spectacular red welts on the front side of my torso, but I wouldn’t inflict those on anyone right now.