Friday, September 20 – Thursday, September 26, 2013.
Friday – September 20. Well, Senora Meseta is laughing all the way to the dustbowls. When I leave Hontanas, the chef who made our paella last night fills up my Camelback with ice (bless you, chef) and a bit of water, because I want to have cold agua . . . ice cold. I am headed for a larger town, Castrojeriz, where I’m told I can get my SIM card recharged. Civilization and no more Meseta. I think. I am mistaken.
At the entrance to Castrojeriz, I pass an ancient monastery (aren’t they all ancient?) down a small road to the left and then enter the town under an arch similar to the one in the unfinished part of the Duomo in Siena. This is a very long town, with one endless street winding slightly for two kilometers from end to end. I see two shops where I have been told I can recharge my SIM card. But the first old man in the store looks at me as though he has no idea what I want, and then points down the hill and says “Gasolin” and returns to his customer.
The second shop is closed. So I will live without making
reservations on my own phone for a bit. The Cuban hospitalero has called both Itero de la Vega and Fromista and secured reservations for me for the next two nights, so a working telephone isn’t crucial at the moment. I don’t need to sightsee in Castrojeriz. I want to be on the road, in a very non-meseta way. As I exit the long town, here is what I see:
Oh, well, I’m used to climbing now, and the road is in good shape. Just a little hill. And each time I reach a curve at what I think is the top, there is more. But I am so proud of myself. I don’t huff and puff, I don’t let my heart sink at each new section of elevated track. I walk. I drink water. I imagine there is a tree somewhere on the road, though there is not. And finally I get to the top, where I see that the terrain does flatten out. And it goes forever.
For the next seven days, I will walk the meseta, day after day after day, endlessly, often with absolutely no town, no bars, no potable fountains, absolutely nothing but meseta. I can do it, I do do it, and sometimes it’s just great. Sometimes. Flat, a bit of breeze, and enough little villages to get a cafe con leche or a seltzer with ice every 5-10 km. And some days absolutely nothing. But I don’t know that yet.
Friday afternoon, stumbling into Itero de la Vega for my next bed is like being in a very mellow movie about The Godfather. Two old brothers run this place, serve us dinner and wine, and then cram us into bunk rooms nearly on top of one another. One pilgrim sits outside drinking beer with an impressive array of medical supplies for his serious blisters . . . all over his feet. His plan for the next week is to hitchhike or take a cab along the route. Not a true meseta experience! But it’s all he can do, since he can hardly walk in bare feet, let alone in shoes. Why is it that the people I meet who have the real blister problems are men? Could it be that they have been walking 30-35-40 km each day? I won’t editorialize here.
Saturday, September 21. From Itera de la Vega, I head for Fromista, a real, active town. Families in the park, etc. Along the way, I meet (by accident . . . these things never happen on purpose) the first person with whom I will choose to walk for more than five minutes. We walk together for two days, in fact. Charlotte from Denmark. Our walking pace is the similar, our manner of living similar in philosophy, and the nearly twenty years between our ages (she says, “Yes, you could be my mother, but you are not!”) seem non-existent. I already have a bed in Fromista but she does not, so I use her phone and reserve one for her.
There is one town between my start and our end for the day, and we share some food in Boadilla before we move on. It’s hot, and of course on the meseta, that means it’s even hotter. And I dislike the heat, as most people know. But in Fromista at the end of the day, it cools down, and we have a nice dinner at one of the town cafes rather than have another menu del dia . . . too much food and most of the same choices at every albergue. It is now Saturday night. We have done our laundry in a machine, along with the clothing of a woman named Christel, a German woman living in Holland for the last several decades. We also meet Maura, and the four of us sit for awhile while the laundry machine is operating, and get to know one another. Photos and details when I write a “people on the way” post. But this one is Senora Meseta’s and I don’t want her to get angry with me!
Sunday, September 22. Sunday morning we are up early and headed out of Fromista in the dark. Only one bar is open for coffee so we suck up a cafe con leche there, and then move toward Carrion de los Contes, our next bed point. I think it’s amusing that I’m walking toward a town whose name also means road kill, or more accurately “the dead and decaying flesh of an animal” Carrion, yes? Is that what we will be after this new meseta day? There are a few trees here and there, but it is Sunday and only one town shows any life at all on our way, so when we arrive, the tables are full and the courtyard is teeming with people who are hot and thirsty. This place has hot dogs, so I order one. It tastes even better than when I get one at a truck stop on a road trip!
Across from the bar is a beautiful stone church, and Mass is in session, so I climb the stairs to take a look. I am greeted with a sign that says, “Worshipers – Free. Visitors and Peregrinos – 2 Euro.” So I sit in a pew, pretending I know what I’m doing. I do know . . . I had years of training, and I’m sure the word “heathen” is only emblazoned on the inside of me, not the outside. When Mass is mostly over, I quietly leave. No bouncer shaking me down for a Euro or two of flesh.
I have never seen a Catholic church that discouraged visiting by charging. Those big Duomos, tourist attractions, don’t count in this category. They are and have the big guns.
When I return to the bar, it’s time to move on to our destination stop. The middle of the day is a bear when it’s hot, and we’re in it. AND on the Meseta. We will learn that as we drag ourselves along this desert and come over a hill, finally there will be the “carrot” – the town to which we are headed can be seen in the distance, and though we each take internal bets on how long it will take us to get there, a part of each of us doesn’t much care. We can finally see something ahead of us that looks promising.
In Carrion de los Condes, we stay at Albergue Espritu Sancto . . . an old convent and now albergue run by the wonderful little nuns. They check us in and put us in a very large room with NO BUNK BEDS . . . only “normal beds”. The cost is 5 Euro and the nun in charge shows Charlotte and me to our room. There are thirteen of us in the very large room, all women. And the bathroom and shower are right across the hall. Perfecto! We treat ourselves to real dinners at a restaurant around the corner, meeting up with Christel, having seen Maura when we arrived in town. I also see several other familiar faces, and tis will happen in rotation groups throughout the walk. Again, more on that later after Ms. Meseta. We head back to the convent and crash early, ready for what tomorrow will bring.
Monday, September 23. Charlotte and I part company because she wants to be on the path early again and I have to wait until the post office opens so I can send my boots to Leon, since they are still misbehaving. I know I won’t see Charlotte again on the Camino because she will be moving more quickly from now on. No rest days for her. But we have exchanged our information, and I doubt this will be our last encounter.
My boots safely sent, two hours after her departure, I walk out of town along the river and meet Judy, from the U.S. and we have a one-minute conversation. I will actually see her again in about a week down the road.
But today I walk a hot, windless, boring day on the meseta. I imagine one isn’t supposed to be bored on the Camino, and I am seldom bored, but today, there is just nothing but a long hot walk. Nearly 18 km. of heat. One woman comments that she hasn’t felt like this since she visited Death Valley in the U.S. I would never visit Death Valley.
I have plenty of water, and there are supposed to be three picnic areas on the next 18km, for a bit of shade and a place to eat a peach or a bocadillo. However, to the horror of everyone I meet at these “rest areas”, the most shaded picnic table and benches has been used as a latrine by some really crude peregrinos. Either that or the locals are letting us know how much they love us. One way or another, there is no relief, and I can’t even believe I’m on this road. I assure myself that if I could survive the Pyrenees, I will survive this day, and pour half a bottle of water all over my neck and shoulders, soaking my shirt for some cool-down. The temperature is in the high 80’s and since I didn’t start until about 8:45, I won’t get to my destination until 4:00 or so. The heat of the day is eating my lunch. And actually, there is nowhere to eat any lunch at all.
When I fall into the beginning of my sleeping town, Calzadilla de la Cueza, I see that it is the only place in town and it has a new swimming pool. Not even that seems reward enough, but it will do for now. I have no bathing suit, but a black bra, black underpants and a scarf wrapped around me just a bit, and I’m in that freezing cold water. Tomorrow I know there will be towns scattered along the next stretch of the meseta, and I sleep very soundly. Perhaps tomorrow will be the end of it.