Spending so much time outside really brings home the connection between weather and nature. Three days of lashing relentless rain and I’ve been mostly thinking about how it makes ME wet. But nature knows how to deal with this sort of thing and today every mushroom and toadstool mycelium along the path was proudly extruding their delightful temporary reproductive organs for all of us to marvel at and potentially consume. Shaggy Ink Caps, Porcini, Horse Mushrooms, hundreds of Parasols, and then the Blushers and the Sulfur Tufts, the Dapperlings waiting to kill us or make us spew. And there, repeatedly along the path, beautiful and iconic, calling out to me, making me hate that there are no ovens in the albergues, the unmistakable Amanita Muscaria. The fairytale mushroom. Wonderland.
Amanitas are an unusual family. Most of them want you and your whole family dead immediately. That’s why they have names like Destroying Angel and Death Cap. This one – the Fly Agaric – this one has history, even if it is still toxic. As well as the stomach cramps, leaking, vomit and potential death, they produce lucid dreaming states, conversations with the self as another, time-crunch effects, caterpillars, Cheshire cats and synaesthesia. Caribou seek them out for shits and giggles. Yep. Reindeer eat these red and white mushrooms and then perhaps imagine that they are flying through the air yoked to a sleigh while a giant laughing Fly Agaric mushroom with a beard brings presents to children.
You can boil the poison out of them eventually if you hate fun. It takes forever and is clearly just to make a point. Better to dry them hard at a high temperature over a long time. Then they keep their psychoactive properties and drop the nausea. Apparently it’s pretty strong. I’m not going there without an expert, and nor should any of you. I’m particularly not going there when I’m walking Camino every day. Despite being brought a bag of them. “You’ll know what to do with these.”
I’m leaving it for now.
But yes – today my eyes have been at the side of the path. To the extent that it became inevitable that I said to another pilgrim “Do you have a bag you don’t need?” When you look at the sides you realise how pilgrims are a bunch of wankers, leaving their plastic shit lying all over the path, waiting for mummy to pick it up. We filled a bag with crap completely in less than fifteen minutes. Then we had to pull the idea of cleaning out of ourselves because if we had carried on we would still be there next year. Mountains of shit left by idiots…
Instead we broke off the path for a 4km diversion to Vilar de Donas. There’s a Templar church there that dates back to the 7th century. Embedded in the masonry are thistles for Scotland, clovers for Ireland and Berber symbols to clarify the alliance between everyone here on this hugely important route more or less exactly midway between Jerusalem and Britain.
An old man came out of a nearby house to let us in through the old doors.
His name was Jesus. Luisa was with us to translate. He’s 90. “It’s just you pilgrims that keep me alive,” he said. “It gives me something to do.” He gave us a tour. He wouldn’t take our money at the end as well. “I have all the money I need.” He was great and the church was so full of symbolism and history. An incredible place and well worth the diversion. I was particularly struck by the Mary statue wearing Charlemagne’s crown. The man was unstoppable. He persuaded the Pope to crown him emperor on Christmas Day 800. He then must have influenced the creation of this statue of the Virgin Mary WEARING THE SAME CROWN.
He really knew the power of symbols, Charlemagne. Incredible man. And for someone so powerful, surprisingly un-psychotic, beside the inevitable narcissism.
But the 90 year old who showed us the church? He wouldn’t take our money. He loves that church and the stories. And he said “The way we live forever is to be remembered.” He is sending his energy out into the world forever. Here’s my contribution to your memory fund, you beautiful beautiful man. And pilgrims? Run to him while you still can. He’s 90 and his name is Jesus. It’s only 2km diversion each way. It’s well worth it.