When you travel for long periods of time, you do crave certain creature comforts. For me its a hot shower and bed at the end of the day. I know for some this is not the true Camino, sleeping under the eaves of churches , pitching a tent, rolling out a sleeping bag on the beach “Looking up at the stars !”
I do envy these individuals and their romantic views but I do ask why is it, that they always seem to be young ? Why is it they always seem to be itching ? Why is it they always seem to be in love ?
On the Camino Portoguese with its long distances, I once spent a night in a community centre. There were no local hostels, hotels, B&B`S, it was one of those places where the locals were trying to leave.
I was extremely grateful to the generosity of a local lady, all dressed in black, whose age, I still cannot determine. With lots of pointing and gesturing, she insisted I take the key to the local community centre.
Trust is a big thing on the Camino !!! With my 2 other companions, we wandered the building then selected our cotton mattress in the basement sleeping area. It really was a question of shade. They all were different types of brown. I tried to pick the least offensive.
My sweaty body, covered with Factor 50, I knew even with a shower, my night was not going to be comfortable. I then found there was no shower. I washed with cold water from a dirty sink and was very much taken out of my comfort zone. For a day at least I was a true pilgrim !!!
This leads me on to my highly personal list of “What makes David happy?
- A single fitted duvet sheet ( Psychologically covers you from indeterminate insects and what might be underneath).
- A single duvet cover ( Best advice ever- Why buy a cotton sleeping bag-liner, when in a charity shop you can buy for a €1 a better alternative ) your body can move, who wants to be a “mummy” in hot weather !
- Mosquito net, comes in 2 types:
a) The Princess, very romantic, bunched above your head descending to your feet. Felt like I was entangled in a aviary ! For those seeking love and happiness, this could be the one!
b) Macho- single military issue, for bunk beds (Gelert +/- €20) for me the best ! Slightly opaque, so some privacy given. No flies, mosquito`s, but please also see parable below !.
Last year when walking on the Camino Frances, I came to an extremely small, dusty village. I was very tired so decided to stay there.
However I had to make a choice as there were 2 hostels, one the “Jesus Christ”, worn and weary, the other very “Miami” with sun loungers and parasols on the front lawn. I could almost see myself holding a martini ! My mind was faced with a dilemma, turn my back on the “Jesus Christ” with all its spiritual metaphors or pick “Miami” with all its vices. Being weak I checked into the “Miami”.
I was talked into a vegetarian pilgrims menu by the owner, against my better judgement and then after admiring the nice interior, dumped my bag. I decided a nice snooze was needed, so headed for the sun loungers !
On close inspection the cream canvas was very grubby and stained. There was a cold breeze blowing and I could not get comfortable.
That night I tossed and turned, constantly scratching !. By the early morning, I was extremely tired and very grumpy. All I wanted to do was leave, I was so miserable but there was no point, until the light came up. Finally as light streamed into the room and other pilgrims stirred, I nearly screamed ! Trapped in the mesh of my mosquito net was 30 -40 bed bugs, I was being eaten alive !!!
As I jumped out the bunk bed feeling like a plague victim, all I could see as I tore down my mosquito net, was a stream of black shapes scurrying for the skirting board. It was like a scene from “The Mummy”. I have since learnt they like dark, warm, moist conditions, so as the sun came up they departed. Sure why not, they had put in a good shift at the mine !
This was not my best moment. I felt “honour bound” to tell my fellow pilgrims of the situation. This was not helped that I seemed to be the only one affected. All I could think of, was whispered conversations at the following hostels, “don`t let him in, he has bed bugs !”
I had the hottest shower I could handle. Painstakingly washed and combed my mosquito net, dressed myself and on hearing stirrings downstairs, went in search of the owner. This conversation led nowhere and I knew the hostel would still open it`s door that afternoon. Ready for the next batch. It was very much “Gracias.. , what can we do ? ..where ?…we passed all our inspections…we have fumigated ..they are brought in by pilgrims !!!
There was no point arguing, I packed up and left. At the next town there was an Albergue / Cafe. I sought advice on what to do about my diseased state and figured local gossip would spread like wildfire about the bed bug infection source !
The first chemist shop I came to gave me great advice. Finally I had a plan, chemical warfare ! I was given a spray (non-toxic to humans) told to put my clothes in a bin bag, put in a couple of squirts, seal the bag and leave for an hour. Then to wash my clothes in a washing machine at 60 degrees centigrade. I was also told this was a common problem on the Camino. I was not alone in this.
On my arrival after a long tiring walk into Astorga, I went to the Albergue Municipal. When I asked the lady on duty “did she have a room ?” She replied “Yes, you are in luck, we have a room”. ” Yeah, yeah, that`s fantastic” I said “but what I really want to know is, do you have a washing machine ? ” With hindsight, I think I have been bitten many times by bed bugs, but never knew it. I hope this helps other pilgrims.