The trouble started shortly after 2pm in the picturesque village of La Falda. An orderly queue had been forming outside the popular Cruz del Camino albergue since early morning. This is one of the Camino's most popular albergues and it is praised by the legendary Camino guide book the Codex Brierleyex. Pilgrims often start walking before they go to bed in order to arrive here in time to get one of its 80 beds.
When the albergue began admitting pilgrims at 1pm a rumour, believed to have been started by a Frenchman, spread through the assembled throngs that there would not be enough space for everyone. An American pilgrims describes the scene while being treated by paramedics for head injuries.
"I was near the top of the line, there was only three people ahead of me, a couple from Seattle who'd started lining up the night before and a German man with a big beard. After we'd already been admitted to the inner courtyard people behind us started pushing causing a crush, so people at the front began to push back. Then suddenly there was a ruckus and all I could see was backpacks being thrown over peoples' heads and the pilgrims behind me defending themselves with their walking sticks. I only slept 2 hours and left my albergue at 11pm, walking through the night and taking my place in line at 5am. It was horrible, there was a British man whose head was covered in blood who was holding on to the albergue door and refusing to let go, he kept shouting, 'I am not sleeping in the municipal! I am not sleeping in the municipal!'"
A Canadian pilgrim who gave her name as Dorris and who was a little further down the queue takes up the sorry tale.
"I really really wanted to sleep in this albergue, the Codex Brierleyex describes as an unmissable spiritual experience, everybody on Facebook says it's awesome, so when we began to hear rumours from the top of the line that the albergue was already full I started crying uncontrollably, a woman near me fainted and other people around us began to scream and shout, 'Don't leave us out here! Don't make us go to the municipal!' Then the commotion started and we could see that there was a struggle going on around the main entrance door, someone shouted, "They're trying to lock us out" then all hell broke loose and people started trying to push forward. Other people, not us, you understand?"
Huck from Texas was toward the back of the queue.
"I was late today, some terrorists had painted fake yellow arrows and I ended up far off the trail fightin' for my life against packs of wild dogs. When I arrived trouble had already started. I did two tours in Afghanistan but I ain't never see nothin' like this. They were punching and elbowing each other, using their walking polls as weapons, and not just the blunt edges either, pulling other people by the hair, kicking people's legs and stamping on the fallen. And that was just the womenfolk."
The scenes of violence continued until a contingent of specially trained Camino riot nuns arrived from Astorga. Even then it took several baton charges and a large quantity of CS gas to finally restore order.
When the smoke and gas had cleared dozens of people lay injured. Forty four people were treated for minor injuries at the scene and seven were taken to hospital in Astorga, two of whom are reported to be in a serious condition.
All is quiet in La Falda tonight, quiet apart from the helicopters circling overhead using their spotlights to identify the last pockets of resistance, quiet apart from the fearsome sound of nuns in riot gear beating their batons on their shields to cover the sound of punishment beatings being meted out to those unfortunates who weren't quick enough to escape.
A bitter, acid smell hangs in the air, a mixture of burning buildings and CS gas. The sun has set on another shame filled day on the Camino de Santiago, leaving us asking 'Dear God when will it end?'
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