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The clandestine “critter” of Santibanez

P1000468Oh, it was a long haul: 43km no less on a hot day and with an increasingly bad blister on my little toe.  I left León alone just after 6, following a group of around 10 pilgrims as they negotiated their way through the suburbs in the dark, then headed out over moorland to Mazarife where (after 20km) I had the best breakfast ever: tostada with butter and marmalade, zumo de naranja , café and limonada. I sat on a terrace enjoying the ambiance with a couple from North West Territories when along the road wandered Richard. I had vowed the last time we talked that I was having a rest day.

“Have you taken the bus?” he asked incredulously as he sat down to join us. The crack was good and I was tempted to have an easy day but an email told me the team would stop and wait for me in Santibanez. Another 20km lay ahead. I laced up my boots.

P1000259Just when I was wearying I rounded a corner to find another pal, Patrick at a cafe table having a late lunch. We talked for an hour, I rehydrated on sparkling water then we walked together to Hospital de Orbigo, then just after we crossed the beautiful long bridge he peeled off to find a bed.  I walked alone then under the searing sun, limping and aching through the endless fields of maize and through a wood until I finally saw Santibanez below me. That’s where I paused and savoured the moment.

Swedish Helen welcomed me as I entered the albergue covered in sweat and dust. My feet were massaged and I washed my clothes as I showered in the outside facilities. We enjoyed a delicious communal meal of salad, risotto and melon then sat in the garden listening to songs on an ipod till late with Helen, Donald, Sander, Simon, Anna and Nicoli.

It wasn’t until it was all quiet in the packed dorm that we heard it – the constant pitter-patter of very tiny feet. We shone the torch under the bunks: it wasn’t a rat or a mouse and it stopped dead in the light of the beam, so we left the torch shining in its eyes and finally fell asleep. We were never able to identify the mysterious hamster-sized “critter” which gratefully escaped back to the garden when a roommate opened the door in the morning.

Tomorrow would need to be an easier day.

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