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nuke the leuk
Supported by the Lotus 7 Club

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Day 21-22 Santiago [Saints & Salsa]

After a very welcome siesta in Hotel Mexico and some catching up with Blog writing I headed back up to the Cathedral to meet my fellow pilgrims for our evening meal at 8pm. This of course in the UK is rather late to be thinking about ones supper but in Spain it’s early in fact too early as when I tried to book the table for 8pm early that afternoon the manager said it was two early and that 8:30pm was the first sitting.

As I strolled along the narrow streets which led up to the Cathedral around 6pm Santiago was just beginning to get ready for a Saturday night. Barmen were busy putting out tables and menus and inside I could see the long thin coolers which sit on top of the bars being filled with tapas for that evening. I was keen to see what Saturday night in Santiago would be like with hundreds of pilgrims ready to celebrate after the long walk, ride or in my case drive.

Many of the shops were also reopening as they tend to closed at around 12pm for the afternoon when it’s really to hot for people to be walking around shopping though in the North where we were it’s not as bad as Madrid which can reach the forties in July and August. They then reopen at around 5pm normally through till 8pm but many of these tourist shops selling nick knacks will be open till gone 11pm. I had phoned Kate and the boys that afternoon to be told that the UK was having a heat wave and that it had reach the thirties in Shrivenham. Here it was a comfortable 25 degrees Celsius as I had seen another sign outside a pharmacist indicating the temperature.

I perused some of the shops looking at all the souvenirs that are available and I’m please to report it’s no where near as bad as Lourdes I couldn’t find a single flashing statute of St James. What I was searching for were car stickers of the familiar yellow and blue Camino sign. This was proving very difficult probably as most people walked and would frown on such an adornment who would want to advertise that the drove the Camino! ME!

In the Cathedral Square more pilgrims who had obviously just arrived were lying down in the centre of the square looking up at the Cathedral as seems to be the tradition. However I’m starting to suspect that some of the pilgrims may have only walked from the bus or train station as they look remarkably clean and don’t seem to be suffering any of the signs one would associate with a long gruelling walk. The genuine pilgrims are those who stagger and limp into the square, rucksack torn and dirty, sun bleached hair, skin turned to the colour of the orange earth of the Camino through rain and dirt. They walk in with steely determination in their own world not looking anyone in the eye.

However many of these so called pilgrims have back packs on with the scallop shell and a rolled up sleeping mat that looks like they were purchased this afternoon these have never been thrown down in the dust of the road or been stained with the sweat of the pilgrims’ back. Tim Moore in his book on the Camion where he walks the route from Pamplona with a Donkey comments on several occasions about fake pilgrims. Those who would leave the refuge late after all the others had gone to discreetly walk to the bus stop or taxi rank. He recognised several faces that would leave last but always seemed to arrive first at the next over night stop and no one else would have seen them on the road that day. They would always make sure they walked the last few hundred yards to the check point to get the Camino Passport stamped so they would receive their certificate at the end. At least I have been open about driving the Camino and undertaken it in a car that makes you feel every bump, the heat the wet not to mention the countless number of insects I have ingested on the way!!!

I found my fellow pilgrims at the edge of the square and we headed for the restaurant I had booked earlier on recommendation. On the way we stopped for a drink and I found a shop selling car stickers so my 7 will now have its reward for getting me here. At this point I realized that much choice of evening wear had been unwise a pair of chinos and a green polo shirt. This was the uniform of the bar staff at which we were now sitting and as soon as I got up to find the gents I had several people waving and shouting drinks orders at me! The restaurant was a modern building serving pilgrims fair a three course meal for 8 Euros. My meal was pleasant enough it wouldn’t have won master chef but it was filling. Unfortunately some of my companions did not fair so well with tough steak and even a long black hair in one meal. The half of the group staying with Linda and Gary Pontin in the other hotel the previous evening had been to a Michelin Star restaurant which Dom Bruce had been told about. This must have seen rather a large step down from the fine cuisine they had had the night before. However it was a good evening and fun a laughter had by all.

After the meal I a promised to introduce Alex Peal to tapas so we headed out to the narrow streets which had many of these small bars side by side. It was now nearly 10pm and I was surprised how quiet it actually was for a Saturday night particularly when I compare it to some of the other towns I have been in over the past few weeks. This may have been down to the rain or drizzle which by now had soaked the streets. We had decided to visit 7 bars before retiring. This seemed an appropriate number for several reasons. I had driven a 7 here, I had 7 Parishes, there are 7 sacraments of the church [well if your and Anglo Catholic there are] Saturday is the 7th day of the week and you drink seven glasses of wine at the Passover meal I could go on.

Now I should explain at this point that a bar crawl in Spain is quite a different affair than a pub crawl in the UK. In the UK a pub crawl simply involves visiting as many pubs as you can and drinking as many pints as you can often resulting in unconsciousness, a trip to A&E or a lift home with the boys in blue. In Spain this is a much more civilised way to spend an evening the idea being to sample the various local wines and the speciality tapas of each bar. When you order a glass of wine in a Spanish bar a normal table wine glass is placed on the bar and half filled this costs about a Euro then you are offered a selection of tapas so you are eating a drinking small amounts as you go along. So this was not a case of the Vicar and Organist on a knees up but two English gentlemen engaging in the local culture. At least this is what we both agreed to tell our wives before embarking on the project!

A pleasant evening was spent though we did make 7 bars we didn’t make 7 glasses of wine two were substituted one for a night cap of a scotch and then an espresso it would have been a cup of tea but there was none to be had. Around 1am we headed our separate ways back to our hotels.

I was somewhat dismayed upon my return to hotel Mexico to discover that directly under the hotel was a night club blaring out very loud music. I should have expected this as I mentioned the hotel was right in the university quarter of the town but I was sure I had not noticed it the previous evening. I decided to go and have a look as the music coming up through the doors was not your regular night club mix of trance, and pop but Latin American music. When I walked down the stairs to this basement club I was met with the most spectacular sight, lots of people of all ages spinning around a swing hips to a Latin American rhythm this was a Salsa Club. After ordering a bottle of fizzy water which is what most people were drinking I asked a nice young girl at the bar about the place. She explained that most of the people here were at the university, graduates and undergraduates she like many of the students there were medics proving the world over that those studying medicine seem to have an ability to work and play harder than your average student. They all belonged to the university Salsa Club and they came here during the week for lessons then put it all into practice on a Saturday Night starting at 2:00am when the normal night club finished for the night. She pointed to several people who were the dance teachers one in particular who was very tall [my height which by Spanish standards is very tall] who was moving round the floor effortlessly dancing with one person after another and giving them tips on the way.

It wasn’t long before he had salsad his way over to me and in a slightly effeminate manner introduced himself as the professor or Antonio. He spoke good English and explained that he was a professional dancer he had even appeared on celebrity come dancing in the UK! Not a program I’ve watched so I just had to take his word for it. He also explained that he had danced in competitions many times in Blackpool. I was suitably impressed. Well when in Roman as they say, that evening I learnt a few salsa steps and had a great time chatting to the medic students who all spoke good English. My trump card was telling them I was a priest in the Church of England which they thought was great many commenting that they felt that the clergy in Spain were unapproachable and did not understand modern life. In the end my late night turned into an early morning with the dancing ended at 5am. Thankfully fizzy water had been the beverage of choice for the dancers so I left with a clear head and conscience some interesting insights to university life in Spain, a few could theological discussions on the church and faith today but most importantly some new dance steps that I would impress Kate with at the RMCS collage ball in July! I should finish by saying though I did not make the morning mass at 10am in the cathedral I did make the midday mass.

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