NOTE: Okay, I’m posting this again. Hope it doesn’t disappear a second time!
Thursday, September 26. Well, party day in Hermanillos is over, though it was just a Tienda and food party. Everyone was sound asleep by 10:00 p.m.
It’s Zero-Dark-30 again, and I am scarfing down huevos and jamon in the restaurant, with fresh juice. The other Neal is eating breakfast with a woman from Australia or England and I join them for my desayuno (breakfast), until they head out, and then I’m alone for a few minutes to collect my thoughts about today’s path.
I walk out on a gorgeous dark morning, with just a hint of light at my back. While I wouldn’t want my entire Camino landscape to be meseta, I’m beginning to appreciate it . . . of course, now that it’s almost over. Neal and the Brit/Aussie woman are either ahead of me or have been diverted, and I’m sure Larry, who hates early mornings, will be sauntering along past me in a couple of hours, but right now, there is no one but me. And the dark. And the very beginnings of the day.
Soon I hear people behind me and as they come alongside, they introduce themselves. Jim and Patte P. from Westminster. They seem like the kind of couple I’d like to see again when I get back to Colorado and I give them my card. We walk together for perhaps 15 minutes, though their pace is faster than mine, of course. But as we reach that stage where they will go on and I will mosey as I am wont to do, we can feel/sense the light coming up behind us and Jim and I reach for our cameras. It truly is gorgeous, and I am happy that Senora made me do this meseta . . . even though that first surprise day sucked! Surprise = anticipating 20 km. and getting 165 km. Nearly 100 miles of it. Just so you get the picture.
Brierley warns of another day with nothing but meseta – not even sendas, which is the term for the pilgrim paths directly next to a busy highway – and one bit of trees near a river somewhere ahead, but this time I am prepared, and again, with the weather about 20 degrees cooler and my “meseta-mentality” in gear, I peacefully walk through this. I don’t even ask myself (0r Brierley) whether or when this landscape will change. I know I’m not all that far from Leon and it isn’t in the Meseta, so happily I roll along. I run into Neal and the Brit/Aussie woman, and then by about 9:00 or so, as I predicted, Larry is on the path stops to talk and walk with me for awhile before moving on at his pace.
There is no mystery about the route, for most of the day anyway, so I walk. I find the necessary tall (and not so tall) grass and short bushes, as does everyone, though I only see occasional peregrinos. That is because most of them took the road, but for the ones that went to Hermanillos. Once you make that decision, you can’t unmake it until about 2/3 up this day’s path. Then supposedly you can swing on over to Reliegos, but both paths lead to Mansilla, the last big (well, not really) place before Leon, which will be another day’s trek. “Our” path, however, is nearly 25 km, so I’m grateful for breeze and temperatures in the 70s, though when you are walking all day under clear blue skies, the sun is hot even at that temperature.
About 2/3 of the way to Mansilla there is a beautiful stand of trees to my left (right and behind me by the time I took the photo), but nowhere to sit, and almost no way to get into the woods. I see a young woman lying on the ground, her pack under her head, and she is kicking up her heels and waving. I wave back, but I’m on the road, and am not into clambering today. Soon after that, apparently the Peregrino Guides ran out of yellow paint, because there is a three-way fork in the road and nary a mark. I finally head left, figuring I’ll end up in Mansilla this way, either through Reliegos or not.
Then I see Neal and his day-companion up ahead scratching their heads. Did they miss something? I assure them they did not. So we all follow the path I chose, and then we see blue arrows and on a rock someone has painted “Reliegos” with a blue arrow pointing down another road past us. I think we are taking that, and look forward to seeing some sort of bar for a coffee or juice, but though I can see the town, I also see clearly that we are not walking toward it. Just grasses and a very well built fence. Oh, well, Mansilla by the old Roman path it is. I lag behind the other two, because I want my self. The last bit is on a major road, but it’s not long and there is Mansilla up ahead of me. Once I duck through the stone Roman arch, it’s only a few blocks to the municipal Albergue, where I’ve decided to stay come hell or high water, because it’s easy and cheap. On the way, I see a nice little supermercato, closed for siesta, so I walk on, get my bed, pay the 5 Euro and notice that though there is no peregrino meal (thank goodness), there is a big kitchen and dining area and all the young people are busy chopping, seasoning, frying. Reminds me of my daughter Ashley and her husband Justin and how they toured the southern hemisphere for 15 months, cooking in hostels.
Pack on my bed, I wander back to the first bar I saw, and order fresh orange juice and a bottle of seltzer “con hielo” (with ice). I am soon joined by Larry, who had checked into his little hotel and wants a beer or a glass of rum. And walking past me are Yves and Janice, whom I will see twice more in this town in the space of a few hours.
When the little supermarket opens, I think about the fact that I will be in Leon for the next two nights at a small hotel right near the Cathedral, so I buy pate, a tin of roasted red peppers, honey roasted nuts, some very thin crackers and two nectarines. After all, I won’t have to carry the stuff after Leon because I will have eaten all of it while I’m in the city. I also buy two tomatoes and a jar of artichoke hearts for dinner tonight in the albergue.
All I need now is a bakery for something just a bit sweet. Most of the items in these panaderias are full of cream or chocolate, neither of which I like, but an occasional honey- coated croissant or a palmier is just what I’m looking for. And I find them, though finding the bakery is more difficult. But my asking skills are getting better, and my expectations are lower, so this time, finding a bakery that is open on the second try is fantastic!. My portable cupboard is as complete as it’s going to be, but as I get nearer to the albergue entrance, I see a poster outside the restaurant across from my place, and spaghetti carbonara tempts me. I’ll order some and take it back to the albergue.
I approach the restaurant and there are Yves and Janice having their own dinner. They invite me to join them so I share some of their wine, and Yves orders my carbonara “para llevar”. It looks like a little portion, a “racione” so I get two. Right. You can tell I’ve been in the desert all day with a half a nectarine and a bad sandwich which went to the buzzards.
Armed with my goodies, I settle into the large courtyard in the center of the albergue, open to the sky surrounded by laundry drying on racks. I see a couple I’ve met before and sit with them. They pour me some wine, so now I’ve had more wine in one day than I’ve had in a week. Two glasses. I get out my assemblage of dinner . . . tomato, artichoke hearts, banana, spaghetti carbonara, and pass one of the spaghetti portions to a young man at the next table. He gratefully accepts, saying it will be his breakfast.
The couple has dinner plans, and I eat my food, then check in with the manager of the place to see about the bus to Leon. The very wonderful woman who manages this albergue finishes with perhaps her fifth blister “patient” (she has a whole medicine chest of preparations and treatments for blisters), takes me gently by the shoulders and walks me outside.
“See that blue phone booth?” she says, pointing a half block down the way. I nod. “There’s the bus stop and here are all the times for tomorrow. Okay?” Excellent. Many of us are planning to avoid walking in to Leon, though it’s only 18.6 km and even Brierley calls it a “slog” and suggests hopping a bus, taking advantage of most of the day to explore the city instead of fighting the industrial districts and highways pre-Leon. Further, he suggests you can “bus it to La Virgen del Camino” as you leave the city, refreshed from your break, ,and walk the 30km from La Virgen to Hospital del Orbigo.
He also inserts a nice little paragraph into his usually poetic text, asking why one would frown on people who take the bus to Leon instead of giving themselves a headache. He says that if the idea of taking a bus seems like heresy, one might ask oneself “Why not?” He talks about the limitations of the ego and its obsessive behavioral patterns and asks those who pass judgment on bus people (or other differences in our choices on the Camino) to take a closer look. Sounds like a plan to me.
Larry, Jim and Patte, Neal and I are all at the bus stop at 9:00 the next morning. The meseta ends before Leon, but ours ends here in Mansilla.