Matadors and Madonnas

To be fair, I had been warned.

I found Hogar Del Puerto Hotel on while I soaked up a truck stop beer outside of Pontevedra. At 15, it was the cheapest on the site and the reviews were suitably terrible: mold on the walls, old sheets, surly service with cramped bathrooms.

So I took it.

I was broken when I arrived.

I had cycled 70 kilometers from a campground near Noia. Now, 70 kilometers for me is the equivalent of well over 100 kilometers for a non-surfboard-lugging-cyclist.

I was ravaged.

The Hogar is the quintessential family operation: grandma behind the bar, grandad asleep in front of the TV and grandsons playing dominoes – old men in training – when they weren’t serving lotto ticket punters. A baby in a walker wheeled along the floor and bumped chair legs, my legs, any legs (I admit, I may have scowled at the baby when she ran over my foot the sixth time).

I was still at the bar.

Grandma took the cash, unpinned the safety pin that secured the crumpled notes in the pocket of her pinny, and dumped the wad on the bar, before she peeled off my five euros in change.

Grandma had taken my passport, the cash, but had not produced a key.

Grandma dug.

Dig granny dig.

You know, she tried. She dug through sheaves of spent lotto tickets, soiled espresso cups, and dead Galicia Estrella bottles before she found the set and sent the older of the grandsons upstairs with me.

I pushed the heavier of my pannier bags into his arms.

We trudged up the stairs together, between framed matadors and Madonnas. Or were these suited old men family portraits? Tough to say, tough to say.

Grandson-senior fumbled with the lock. No dice. I ground my teeth and shuffled from left foot to right foot, and passed my pannier bags between exhausted hands.

Come on.

I hoped the lock would pop, but no, I had to lay down — surrender — my bags.

Open sesame.

Two backpacks were already in the room. My room. I pointed at the luggage.

‘Dos amigos?’

‘No amigos,’ I said, ready to haunch it down, Indian style, in the hallway. ‘No, err, nueva habitacion?’

I waited under the steady stare of the matadors while grandson-senior went downstairs to consult with grandma.

Sure, there were shouts. Steadfast deliberation, even. I had tried to keep myself and my baggage off the walls but I slumped forward, and then backward, while helmet-hair grease swathed the white walls.

Who were these two phantoms who had swooped upon my bedchambers when I needed them most? And why would they deny me my slumbers?

By the grace of God a new room was found and I threw my bags at the bed.

No hot water.

No towel.

No soap.


I couldn’t face the downstairs trudge again.

I cold shower.

As I work up a Dove Beauty Bar lather I think, How do I explain this to the old battle axe? I’m haunted by the comments from, ‘You will have trouble communicating with the staff if you don’t speak Spanish.’

‘This is a shit hotel.’

To stem the shock of the cold water, I think, How I Will complain to the kid.

‘Ducha fria’ or ‘Duchas solo fria, no caliente,’ a basic variation on Warm Showers, one of the few words I know in Spanish.

But of course, I never complain.


It was a roof over my head for 15.

And in the morning, a warm shower and a free breakfast.

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