I´m lucky to get a lift from Escanda with a girl called Vane. She takes me up the windy mountainous path towards León and drops me at the turning to the little village where she lives, in a barn she´s converting into a house. We see snow on the mountains above us and Vane shivers. Her windows are currently holes in the walls.
I stick my thumb out and a big white van screenches to a halt. Hooray – it´s one of those days! He´s friendly – very friendly. The word “guapa” is repeated often. I´m getting more and more of these drivers lately. He drops me off at a petrol station further down the windy road, but calls me back to ask first for a kiss on the cheek and then for something else. I don´t understand the words he´s saying, so apologise and tell him “no entiendo” as I walk back to the road. I have a feeling I know what he was asking, but we wave cheerfully to one another as he drives away. It´s a couple of lifts later I realise I left my map in his van. I have another – a bigger map that shows all of Europe, but it only has the big roads and that little Spanish map was very handy.
Tati picks me up somewhere near León and is the first of my drivers to have heard of Matavenero, in fact he knows it very well. I don´t understand a lot of what he is saying, but I instinctively trust him and follow as he gets out of the car and into a van in Astorga. He drives me up into a little village somewhere in the mountains that I have never heard of before and is not in the directions I copied from the internet. Perhaps there was some significance to my losing the map. I am surely off the map now, metaphorically speaking.
Tati takes me to a house where there are two stoned men – one of them playing computer games and one in bed, who gets up and greets me. I am given a bowl of white rice and some salad. It turns out that one of the men (the one playing computer games), will go nearer to Matavenero later on, but it will still be a 12km trek up the pista from there and he´s not leaving til around 9pm. It´s now around 4pm. I discover that Eduardo, the other man who gave me the rice, speaks English very well. He tells me he lived at Matavenero for seven years, but left seven years ago. He thinks some of the people may be at English class in Astorga today and may give me a lift when they finish, which might be at 6pm. That´s a lot of maybes.
The three men go to work on the house next door at the same time as Jutta, Eduardo´s girlfriend comes home. She´s not sure about the English class either, but I have already decided to hitchhike from here. Jutta is German and has excellent English. She gives me directions to Matavenero – completely different from the internet directions! – and the phone number of a friend who may or may not be at English class.
I head to the village square as Jutta suggests, but on seeing only two cars in fifteen minutes I begin to walk. I walk through the village and a couple more kilometres before I even see another car. It doesn´t stop. I sit down on my backpack beside the road to wait.
Curiously, this is the Camino de Santiago and I am passed by lots of walkers with brightly coloured backpacks, professional walking sticks, visors and the like. One of them stops to talk to me, asking if I have given up on walking. Another throws me a dried apricot from the way, just above where I am sitting. Finally a car stops and takes me to the next village. I begin pueblo-hopping slowly.
Because this is the Camino de Santiago, there are hostels, bars and cafes in each of the little villages. I would love to stop in one of them, but I am anxious to get as far as I can before night falls. Still, it´s comforting to know they are there, especially as the road climbs higher and the rain starts.
A lift takes me to the other side of the last pueblo and drops me off at the start of the pista, where a sign says “Matavenero” in rainbow colours. All along the way I have been following the rainbows. There was a gathering up here recently, very close to Matavenmero, and the rainbows point the way there.
I begin walking. The rain is really heavy now and I have to stop to put on my waterproof jacket and trousers and put the cover over my backpack. It was worth carrying all those extra things all this way! Feeling a little more invincible, I continue my trek.
All I can hear is the crunch, crunch, crunch of my feet on the pista. I stop walking.
To my left is a mountian. Beneath my feet is the pista. In front, above, behind and to the right of me, all I can see is cloud.
Is this a dream?
I start walking again. Crunch, crunch, crunch. It will be dark in an hour.
A car! It stops! “Lo siento, estamos completo.” Oh. I look at the little space between the two people in the backseat. Surely I could squeeze into that? The girl in the front gives me a pitying look as they drive away.
Crunch, crunch, crunch…
Another car! A hippy van! She stops. They are full too really, but Anna doesn´t care. She sticks my bag in the back and orders her little boy out of the front and into the back. I am saved!
Anna came for the rainbow gathering. It finished three days ago and some of the people are staying on a few more days in the village. She takes me to the carpark where she will park up for the night, and I continue down a narrow rocky path. There is no vehicle access to the village.
After walking a little way, the path curves around the mountain and there it is below me: the elusive Matavenero.