Emergency services were called to the Sueños del Cielo hostel in the tiny Camino village of Atagatas in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
On arrival they found a number of pilgrims in a distressed state. Maribel de las Urgencias, one of the first paramedics to arrive on the scene, described for us what she witnessed.
"When we arrived at the albergue de peregrinos we found a number of people of various nationalities outside the albergue. They appeared to be in an extremely distressed state. A woman approached me, she was hysterical, shouting in German, I told her I didn't understand and that she should speak Spanish, all she could say was 'chinches grandes! chinches grandes!' over and over again in a terrible anguished voice."
Maribel, despite many years experience in the first response service of the province of Palenzia, is clearly distressed as she describes what she saw next.
"We knew immediately what we were dealing with. We had heard reports of giant bedbugs attacking pilgrims on other parts of the Camino and we had trained for the eventuality that they would some day arrive here. But no amount of training really prepares you for when you witness it yourself."
Maribel immediately called for backup and instructed her teams to establish a triage station for the injured.
"When we penetrated into the interior of the building the sight that greeted us was horrifying, there was blood everywhere, victims were crying out for help, we saw some of the bedbugs too, people had been fighting them with whatever they had to hand."
We spoke to a German pilgrim who gave his name as Dieter.
"I vas voken about 2 o'clock by somebody screaming. The bedbugs had begun attacking at the other end of the dorm to vhere I vas. The had launched a surprise attack, several of them were holding people on the lower bunks while others were biting them like savage animals. Other people were trying to beat them off using their walking poles or throwing their hiking boots at them."
Dieter paused to compose himself before continuing.
"It was horrible, there was too many of them. The walking poles were just bouncing off them, they didn't even manage to distract. I'll never forget the noise they made, loud slurping chomping noises, and the screams of the pilgrims. Oh God! The suffering!"
Dieter broke down into loud sobbing, incapable of continuing the interview.
An English pilgrim named James takes up the tale.
"I woke up when I felt one of these blighters gnawing at my left leg. I immediately turned on my torch. He had already taken a large lump off my leg and was busy sucking my blood, I could see his body swollen and red with my blood. I was jolly annoyed and I told him, 'if you don't stop I shall have to make you!' But he wouldn't see reason, not British you see, so I whacked him with my torch. That stopped him in his tracks but one of his mates began coming at me from the other side, so now I had to fight two of them off. I managed to aim a solid kick at the first one and he flew across the room and landed near the other wall, then I was able to turn my attention to his mate. I had my penknife on the belt of my walking trousers and I managed to get that out and open it, the small blade first, but looking at it I decided it wouldn't be big enough for such a major job, then I opened the tin opener by mistake, silly me, eventually after the saw and the thing for removing stones from horses hooves - I mean seriously, what were they thinking? - I eventually got the blade I needed and wasted no time sticking the little blighter in the head, right between the eyes, I read on the forum that that's the only sure way to kill one. Sure enough he fell dead on the spot and I was able to extricate myself."
James was lucky and suffered only minor injuries.
Pawel from Poland wasn't so lucky.
"I wake up because there is another noise in dorm. At first I not understand what happens, I think 'already is 4am?', but then I start to notice that I am not alone in sleeping bag, at first I not understand and think maybe I get lucky with hot Italian pilgrim but when I open bag I get big fright, horror almost, it is four or five of them and they are biting and sucking, but not in nice way you understand. I grab one and I pull him off and I throw him across the room, then I started fight with the anothers, one I hit with bottle of vodka, then I roll, like James Bond in that movie, on to floor, this kill another, then there is only one left, him I take into albergue kitchen and I put in microwave."
Pawel shakes his head in wonderment as he continues.
"Even at full power the little beast he take almost three minutes before he explode. Very messy. All the time he in there going around and around in circle and he is shaking his little arm at me, I know he not able talk but I imagine he is saying, 'I will get you you Polish!'
It took several hours for the emergency services to get the situation under control. Eleven people were injured, six of them seriously, some from injuries sustained in their flight from the bedbugs and others with gunshot wounds caused by stray bullets fired by the Guardia Civil in their battle with the bedbugs.
A police dog also had to receive emergency treatment, he is believed to have consumed the remains of a pilgrim menu.
Reports of the tropical flesh-eating bedbugs have been multiplying in recent years. The bedbugs (known to scientists by their Latin name, lervae carnii) are thought to have originated in South East Asia where bedbugs accompanying tourists from North America interbred with local varieties of giant ants producing a viscous cross breed of bed-lurking vermin which are resistant to all known chemical deterrents.
They are believed to have arrived on the Camino with a German hippie named Moonlightning (real name Sabina) who came to the Camino from Thailand in 2015 and is believed to have been the first person to secome to the blood-thirsty menace when she was discovered in a highly distressed state in an albergue near Najera, with bite marks all over her body and babbling incomprehensibly, although eye-witness reports are contradictory with some witnesses claiming she babbled incomprehensibly all the time.
An adult giant bedbug is about 1cm (4 inches) in length, with a small head and a body which swells according to how much human flesh it has recently consumed. A healthy adult can eat the equivalent of twenty times its bodyweight in raw meat in a single sitting (approximately a medium sized pilgrim leg).
Although no deaths have occurred as a result of giant bedbugs it is certain, given the amount of hysteria around them, that it is just a matter of time.
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