Tuesday, September 24. Okay, I think I see Senora Meseta’s game. Present me with her stark beauty and see how I do. Sometimes she has two routes for the day, one along the main road and the other along the wheat grasses on a dirt and rock path. Generally, I choose the dirt path. If there is going to be NOTHING for the next few days, I’d rather be on dirt than asphalt with cars whizzing by. Good decision.
From the swimming pool albergue, I head out with Christel, the Dutch/German woman I met in Fromista. She has very swollen ankles and will travel slowly, taking good care of her feet. I feel good, and I know there will be towns today, four of them between the place I”m leaving and Sahagun, where I will stop tonight.
Some of the routing through these towns is hilarious. Or useless, depending on how you look at it. The Ledigos’ detour is literally around one tiny corner, where there is a bar with a very uninspired employee or owner. It is about 8:30 a.m. and there are perhaps a dozen pilgrims waiting for service, and the customers keep pouring in . . . cafe con leche, any sort of pastry or whatever . . . and this guy makes one coffee, then goes to the end of the bar where his compadres have poured him something strong already this morning. He drinks a bit of it, jokes with his buddies, comes back to take another order, disappears in the kitchen to make a bocadillo (an enormous bread sandwich with perhaps a slice of jamon and maybe cheese if you’re lucky.) When he feels like it, he comes out of the kitchen, hands the person her order (not made correctly, of course), goes back to the other end of the bar, drinks the brown stuff again, etc.
I waste 25 minutes waiting for coffee and then sit shaking my head. One man sitting near me says, “Apparently not ALL of the locals care much about giving us good service.” As in life, there is always the grumpy or unmotivated one. In Ledigos, that one person works at this bar. The man who commented is Brian, from Australia, Sunshine Coast, and he is having trouble with his leg. He too will move slowly today. I drink my cafe and head out. I don’t even bother to stop in Terradillos de Templarios. (And I note yet again that Dan Brown would have a field day in this area, since the evidence of the old Knights Templar is everywhere.)
Today’s meseta stretch has to be better than yesterday’s. Knowing there will be several towns, with places to stop, sit, get something to eat or drink, and gather up some energy, does hold promise. I have no idea how long this landscape will last (won’t be fooled again, as Pete Townshend says), since the original trickery of the two-part meseta through Hornillos and Hontanas is two-days past. But as with everything on the Camino, it is what it is.
The scenery is like Kansas or eastern Colorado. Not much of anything but various shades of beige, brown and gold. And flies. There always seem to be flies. Charlotte had a spray I used for my hat, but Charlotte is now a day ahead of me. So I swat at the flies occasionally, and just breathe with my mouth closed. The sun is shining, and it’s not too hot, with a breeze, so this is a good sign.
In Moratinos, I again see Brian, the Australian with the bum leg, and he is considering staying in this tiny burg. I know Christel will be here in a hotel, because she reserved it yesterday. I don’t even get coffee here, because now, since Senora Meseta likes to play with us, there are villages about every 5 km. to make up for the nearly 18 km. yesterday with absolutely no respite.
At San Nichola, I meet a man with a grey ponytail having his lunch. He looked vaguely familiar from the swimming pool albergue. As I set my salad at the table next to his, I see by his backpack that his name is Neal (“my” Neil is spelled differently), and I say, “Oh, another Neil – N-e-a-l” and he replies, “No, I’m the original Neal.”
He is an artist, lives in Peekskill, N.Y., is a year older than Neil, and is clearly an old leftist, just like most of my friends. We chat, as is the custom on the Camino, and I leave after I’ve finished my salad. I’m sure this will be another person who will hopscotch through the next few days of the walk, and that will prove to be the case.
Through the rest of the day’s walk, I feel light and breezy, Now that I am better fueled and more prepared, I walk easily into my destination little city, Sahagun, and head for the Albergue Municipale in the center of town. I will get a bed and head for an ATM and a Movistar office to recharge my recalcitrant cell phone SIM card, which ran out of gas long before the nice man in Santo Domingo promised it would. Hmmm.
A sign for the albergue directs me to turn right at the corner, and I see the building up ahead. . . . . . . . and now I’m on the sidewalk, my knees screaming for the skin that is now attached to the brick pavers that line the streets. All that rough terrain and not one fall, thanks to my sticks, but here I am in town, down on my knees. What the hell??
A wait-person from the bar across the street is running to me, along with three older men. They pick me (and my full pack) up off the sidewalk and I look down. Ah, of course . . . I can see the headline now:
Collapsing Section of Sidewalk Downs Woodswoman!
The young waitress kindly scurries me to a chair at the bar and gets me some water and bread (of course). She is so worried about me, and I try to assure her I am fine. Soon she darts back into the restaurant and out again with a bottle of disinfectant, a new package of oblong cotton balls and a box of gauze.
In the meantime, two American women, one from Texas and one from California, sitting next to me, begin talking with me (I’ve met them before, perhaps a week ago), and say they have found a pensione around the corner with private rooms for 15 Euro. Ms. Texas kindly walks me to the place, speaks with the old man who owns it (Spanish only), and before I know it, I have my room, with the bath next door, if not in my room. Fine with me. That municipal Albergue was apparently a jinx, wasn’t it?
So I return to the bar and dutifully use some of the medicinal supplies the kind young waitress brought me. She returns to make sure I’m not bleeding to death, and reassured, gathers the supplies and returns them to somewhere in her establishment.
The rest of the day is spent doing errands . . . an alimentacion for fruit and nuts for tomorrow, an ATM for cash, the Movistar place, where I find out just how wrong that nice man in Santo Domingo was about the benefits of the SIM card he sold me. Another 50 Euro and perhaps I’m armed with enough credit for the rest of my trip.
I return to my rescue restaurant, call Neil and talk with him until the kitchen opens so I can have dinner, suffer through another “menu del dia” and limp off to my little room, where I crash.
Wednesday, September 25. It is dark when I leave the little hotel. The wireless connection didn’t work last night, and that probably guaranteed me an extra hour of sleep so this morning, I depend on the Sahagun street lamps to lead me toward the yellow arrows and perhaps a bar that is open at 6:30 a.m. Finally, just near the Movistar place from yesterday, I see a light inside one of the storefronts, where a very nice young man gives me, what else, cafe con leche and some fresh squeezed orange juice. He has no bread yet (WHAT??) but that’s fine with me. When I’m finished with my coffee and juice, the delivery person brings bread from the panaderia around the corner somewhere, and the young man offers to make me a small sandwich, with jamon and queso. I ask that he wrap it up and I tuck it in my backpack for later. I know today will be another one of those nothing-in-between days, so I also make sure I have enough water in my camelback as well as in my small water bottles.
It is still dark as I walk out of Sahagun, and on the way, I meet a man coming into town who introduces himself as Larry from Michigan and Florida, and who asks me whether there is a bar open yet. I direct him to the one I’ve just come from and we go our separate ways. It is beautiful on the way out of the city, and I snap a photo because I know this is probably the last tree I’ll see all day. There are two ways to get to the next segment, one that follows the road all the way to El Burgo Ranero through Bercianos and one that veers off to the right through the dirt to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos (or Hermanillos de la Calzada, depending on where you look). I choose the latter. There will be days I’ll follow the road, for safety or incline/decline reasons, but there is rarely an up or down on the meseta unless it’s one long dusty road to the next flat plain. Still . . . I’m getting used to desolation and it is preferable to zoom zoom zoom.
The “opcion” is a bit hard to locate, and when I do turn right off the road, I hope I’m heading anywhere close to the correct direction. There is one little village place, Calzada de Coto, only a half kilometer from the junction, and though it’s 8:45 by now, this place looks like a ghost town. I spot Australian Brian sitting on a bench in a small “park”, shaking his head. No coffee in this town yet. Strange. So I walk on through, meet up with the two American women from yesterday in Sahagun, and we take turns in the bushes for awhile. It’s becoming so easy to just drop my drawers whenever there is an urgent need, like any dog on the street. Maybe I’ll build an outhouse in my back yard when I get home.
After about three kilometers, I see Neal, “the other Neal”, and we walk and talk for a bit before he moves on. Then comes Larry, the Michigan/Florida man. We too walk for awhile and have the kind of conversation Camino walkers seem to create, if they have one at all. Somehow, you get to scraps of the meat in one life or another without much preliminary stuff. He hates starting early (but he did), he likes long days (but this will be a quite short one, unless he wants to go about 40km., too long), his wife died recently, he has two kids, and we go on from there, but it’s not listing these items. It’s an unfolding that I experience often on the Camino, somewhat like a conversation one has on an airplane if one is lucky. No BS, no agenda, just something that pours out honestly, spontaneously. You might never see that person again, but you remember.
This conversation could have gone in any number of other directions, just as he or I could have taken another path up the road through the seemingly endless meseta, but it didn’t. We are here, walking together for awhile, dropped into a bubble and then floating out of it. He walks faster than I do, so I assume I’ll see him up the road in Hermanillos, since there is nowhere else to go.
Our town today is only 14 km, so by 11:00 I’m at the only bar/restaurant in town. Larry is already there, having a rum, which he has told me he loves. This place is also a little hostal (remember, a hos-TAHL is a little sort-of-hotel, not a hostel as we usually think of it) and he is booked into a private room (he prefers these to the shared accommodations – don’t we all – but he has some funds for it). Neal and Brian are sitting at separate tables on the patio , though neither of them is staying here. Such a small world some days. The patio fills and empties as people get a glass of something and go to their respective accommodations. No one who is here will leave today, since the next town from this pathway is 24 km. down the long dry stretch of meseta.
Since the hostal is “completo”, I walk two blocks to the municipal albergue, which doesn’t open for another ninety minutes. Back at the hostal/restaurant, the sweet woman who seems to run everything there apologizes for not having a room for me. I tell her that’s fine. She pantomimes that if there is a cancellation, she will let me know. I order some food and a coffee and wait out my ninety minutes in conversation with Larry. Brian has gone farther up the road to secure the last room in another little private pensione.
When it is 12:30, I head to the muni, and the man there is beaming as he explains the “donativo” status of the bed charge. He holds up one, two, three, four, five fingers and says, “Uno, dos, tres, quatros, cinco euro . . . good.” Then he flips up the five fingers of the other hand as well and says, “Mas, very good” as his smile splits his face. I drop “cinco” in the box. Why not? If there were a flat charge, it would be at least that, and these people do good work.
The bed arrangement is interesting and unique. Perhaps at some point a post about variations on an albergue theme will be in order. For now, I will say that there are four compartments in a long row on “my” side of the albergue. Each compartment has built in four beds, two down and two up, but they are not metal bunks. They are more like ship’s berths. The other side of the building has similar accommodations. A small albergue by municipal standards (remember in Roncesvalles, my receipt said, “#100”). Since I am early, I get a “baja”, a lower berth, and relieved, I throw down my pack. There is a person napping in the other lower berth across from me, and he turns around. He says, “Just don’t get your Neals confused.” I assure him I have no intention of doing that!
After getting settled, I go back to the other place for some eggs and a glass of fresh orange juice. The sweet woman is still apologizing to me, and I tell her, “No problemo”, motioning to the albergue down the street.
When I return to my little Hermanillos home, there is a buzz among the people who have arrived after I did, and several of them seem to have fresh groceries. One tells me to go outside, down a half block toward the exit end of town, and follow the “Tienda” signs and the white arrows to the left a few blocks. I notice everyone in this part of Spain is very careful about the color of directional arrows. Yellow paint is for the Camino pathway only, blue for god knows what, and the white ones here are attached to the direction for the tienda, the shop. One woman tells me, “It’s only open until 2:00, and then not again until 6:00 p.m.” Of course. Siesta is everywhere. Her man says, “It’s a very long two blocks, but there it is.” My watch says 1:52. I hustle.
What I find, long after I expected the town to disappear in a two-block-wide linear stretch, is a tiny store, with a line of people out the door. I wish I had taken a photo of that, but this will have to do. Just past the long sign is a door, and then a hallway. Then the little store sitting behind the barred window, probably as big as my home office in Fort Collins. And a short nearly bald man behind the counter, filling people’s orders, running across the hall to a storage room three times as big as his actual store space, to get more of something.
I watch this for the seven people ahead of me and look at the clock. 2:02. Will he close? Apparently not. He will make sure everyone is helped before he thinks about abandoning us.
If you want yogurt, he brings out the four-pack, like the ones I buy at home. But I only want one, so he snaps one off the pack and puts the others away. Olives? One scoop, two, three? Want to taste one? Baguette? No, I can only use 1/4 a baguette. Out comes a bread knife to cut the half baguette left after the last guy wanted his half, and I get my quarter of a loaf, along with meat, cheese, a tomato, a nectarine, and olives.
Back at the albergue, everyone has spread out their booty. I remember that I didn’t get mayo, something I’ve longed for on this walk, but it’s now about 2:45, so I do my laundry instead. I’ll go back later. And when I do go back later, I see no evidence that the man has closed the store. There is still a line out the door, with new and returning customers. As I wait, I eye several long covered boxes of pastry, none of it appealing to me. The little man motions that I should uncover the last of the boxes and I do. YUM! Almond cookies. I take three. The little man grins. Score!
With my almond cookies and mayo, I return to rustle up some cold dinner for myself, but I want more than my sandwich, so I go back to the restaurant to see if they have soup. Lentil soup is on the menu and I ask the sweet owner if I can have some “para llevar”, to take away. She says she has nothing for me to carry it in, but “this”, and she holds up a plastic container. I tell her that’s great, and before I know it (she is really way outside the box with her desire to help me), I have a container of hot lentil soup “to go”.
At the albergue, I eat my makeshift dinner, while the couple who told me about the store earlier that afternoon are really cooking. They introduce themselves as Yves (French-Canadian) and Janice (American) and say they live in Oregon. He has fairly short snow white hair and hers is blond and very long. They talk to me and the others at the table about all the backpacking trips they’ve done and how much they enjoy this sort of thing. Some of us are only doing this for . . . some strange reason, not because we want another place to play turtle, with all of our belongings on our backs. These two clearly enjoy teir lives, and I will hopscotch with them across this Camino for most of the rest of our journey.
The evening brings the usual. Check the laundry to see if it is dry on the line. Organize things for an early start in the morning. Even though this was an easy walking day, with lots of socializing, the accumulation of twenty-five Camino days takes its toll and it is always tired out by about 8:00. Brush teeth, take my one night pill, insert night guard into mouth. Pee. Hit the sack. Gone.