Enough of history; let me return to Ponferrada with its Knights Templar castle. Close to Plaza Encima I visited the fairly large Basilica de la Encina with its impressive gold-encrusted altar wall that reached up to the ceiling and provided proof of the wealth and splendour of the Roman Catholic Church. The main attraction for me was the soft piped music inside the church. I lit four candles and settled down to write the diary for an hour or more before I continued over Plaza Mayor and down the narrow streets of the old town, through the arch of La Torre del Reloj and over the río Sil by the pon (bridge) ferrada (ferro = iron) – an iron bridge, originally dating from the 11th Century.
I left the old city and searched for a pharmacy in the newer suburbs. The night in Molinaseca had not been restful; my body was still itching and I had to face the fact that washing my clothes had not cleared me of insects. In fact, the next morning I discovered more bumps and bruises and during the day some grew to the size of a large coin. My face looked quite distorted by now, and my neck, arms, hips, legs and even my feet were itching. Something drastic had to be done; I now needed serious help and went to an ambulato (day hospital). The wait took almost two hours and when I tried to speak to someone about this, the language barrier became obvious and my attempts to gain information failed. Nevertheless, at 12 o’clock it was finally my turn to see the doctor. The prognosis was that the bed bugs had caused an extremely vicious allergic reaction. I obtained antihistamine tablets from a pharmacy and homeopathic pills to make myself less attractive to my present or any future bugs. By this time it was long past midday and I took a taxi to the edge of the industrial area, which saved me three and a half kilometres of walking. From there I had a hot but pleasant and lonely journey of a good fourteen kilometres to Cacabelos.
On arrival at the albergue at around 16:30 and knowing that bedbugs were still with me, I again washed my clothes. This time I put everything into the washing machine except my swimming trunks and a shirt which covered me in the meantime. I knew that if this time I could not get rid of my stowaways I would be in serious trouble and probably would have to abandon my pilgrimage. It was not only the itching and unsightliness; energy needed for the serious climbs that lay ahead were sapped.
I was also conscious of the fact that I could inadvertently pass the bugs onto others, – what to do? I felt quite ostracized and did not want other pilgrims to see my predicament, but it was impossible to hide my condition, so I had to make myself scarce. I could not take off my shirt in the bathroom and reveal the ghastly evidence. If this persisted, I would have to consider sleeping in a pensione or hotel – which is not what I wanted. The albergues add to the spirit of the Camino, making one feel that one belongs to a very special community.