The guide book claims that most people skip the Meseta portion of the Camino. It is a 240 km long section of flat dry desert with very few towns and plenty of sun, heat, and exposure. It is often described as a conveyor belt because the dirt track stretches out in front of you to the horizon and you seem to walk for hours with no change in scenery, and you surely aren´t getting closer to your destination. An absolute ton has happened in the last week, as you would expect from a group of 20 hiking across a foreign country with no real plan to speak of. So in to particular order of danger or chronology, here are some of the highlights.
One of the days in the Meseta, not sure which one since they all blur together, we rolled into the town of Hontanas with not many expectations of niceness. We were surprised to find a rather vibrant town square and there was a place that served actually good pizza right there, so without having to scrounge around for food like usual, we settled in for a fantastic pizza lunch. As we devoured our final bites, rumors of a swimming pool in town reached us, so we snagged packs and happened upon an enormous crisp and clean pool that seemed to wash away not only the days grime, but the accumulated weariness of the past weeks. After dragging ourselves away we stepped back into the heat of the ever present Meseta and made our way to the town of Castrojeriz. Upon getting to the town, things didn´t look good for the camino crew. The designated campsite was absurdly expensive and all the albergues were full, so we explored town a little bit and happened upon yet another pool, two in one day. The pool was run by a true ´pool bro´and he had no problems with us camping outside the fences and hooked us up with a poolside dinner of pizza and sandwiches. Quite a day for sure. Spoiler alert, if you are a nervous mom, do not read any more about Castrojeriz. So we settled in to our tents for the evening, exhausted after 30 sweltering k in the meseta and drifted off into a blissful sleep. A couple hours later we were awakened by a storm that can only move with this ferocity in an open desert. We were pounded early with wind and rain and eventually gave way to a fantastic show of lightning the lit up the sky like mid day and rocked us with thunder in our tents from nearby ground strikes. We slept in a bit the next day while the storms finished up and also to let people get some additional sleep after cowering awake in our tents for three hours.
Weary from being awake all night we made our way along the flat and barren landscape stopping a few small villages clinging to existence by the grace of the Camino alone. Motivated by a nap, we made Fromista early in the afternoon where we relaxed in the town square, played some cards, and tried to stay off our feet. Shortly after dinner, clouds of apocalyptic doom formed on the horizon and threatened to bring last evenings wrath upon us again. We quickly packed up and headed to camp to get battened down for the evening. Wind picked up and the sun was blacked out as everyone frantically tried to set up their tents in gale force winds. Most people made it and were able to guy out there tents and dive in just as sheets of rain pounded our camp. I laid away in my tent for a couple hours with my hands pressed against the windward side of my tent to try and help it withstand the seemingly endless assault from the storm. We got up before dawn the next day since we had an uncommonly long stretch of desert to do and it promised to be extra hot. The group was wet and very tired with yet another night of little sleep under our belts. Naps and a good night´s sleep were on our mind as we headed out into the dark flat void of the Camino.
To try and beat the heat, we hiked fast and took short breaks to try and put as many km´s behind us before the sun rose to full height to cook us. As the afternoon approached we hit our stretch of 20k with no towns of any sort and we huddled in the shade of small shrubs. The church steeple of Calzadilla de la Cueza popped onto the horizon, meaning the town was in range. We hobbled into town tired and thirsty and went to the only building in town that was open to grab some shade and drinks. We relaxed here the rest of the afternoon, had some dinner, played some cards, and then retired to our campsite on the edge of town in hopes of finally getting some good rest. Now there is only one building in town that is still open, which mademe think that there can´t be more than 25 people living there, but somehow there was a huge festival that night in the town square. So just as the sun wentdown and we retired for the night, the DJ cranked up some hard techno and rocked hard and loud and interspersed fireworks with his music from time to time. As I laid in my tent, waiting for sleep and for the music to stop, my alarm went off. The music was still bumping and we hadn´t really had any good sleep to speak of yet, so I turned off the alarm and hoped the music would soon end so we could at least get a couple hours in before the sun rose to cook us. We managed to get in an extended nap before packing up and shuffling off into the meseta like a group of zombies hungry for rest instead of human flesh.
At this point we pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that we wouldn´t sleep or eat good food for the rest of our time here in Spain. So when we arrived in Bercianos, our expectations were of course not too high. There were at least a couple buildings still open in town, so that was promising. When I stopped in the albergue it was run by two really energetic and friendly girls. They told me they were full and I told them that we had a group of 20. They laughed then said it would be fun if we tried to accommodate everyone so we got to work. They let us camp on the back patio so we were able to do some laundry, grab a very much needed shower, and then we all chipped in to cooking a communal dinner for 70 people. We ate salad, bread, and divine lentil soup until we were full, which was a first for everyone on this trip. We watched the sun set over the Meseta, then had some reflection time with the resident friars, then cowboy camped on the patio and gazed at the milky way overhead, listened to the crickets, and drifted off to a sleep unlike anything we´d had in days.
We have now finished the Meseta and have climbed our way into the cooler and more mountainous region of the Camino. We are a bit more than a week out from Santiago, so the number of peregrinos has picked up significantly now. In the meseta and before, we were forced to eat dry bocadillos and dinners were often very hard to come by, with one town actually running out of food when we came through. Food is now getting way better, hours are way more flexible, and we´re able to find a variety of foods that our exhausted hiking bodies are in need of. People also seem to be getting alot nicer. For some reason earlier in the trail people were not excited to have lots of customers in their restaurants and we actually walked out of countless restaurants due to ornery owners. This was a shock to us since the local economies are suffering significantly in this area, and an infusion of 20 eager customers would seem to be a welcome blessing. Now that we are getting closer to Santiago, the sentiment has shifted a bit, and people are recruiting us in as we walk by, and restaurants are trying to get us to stay longer, or come back if we´re in town for an extended time.
Overall we have become known a bit on trail, one because we are pretty large and in all honesty pretty loud. When we catch up to people they claim they had heard about us, so we precede ourselves a bit at this point. We quickly take over entire restaurants, and when we set camp we can cover the whole town park pretty quickly. There wasn´t much information on camping out here and most people said they hadn´t heard of anyone camping along the way, but so far we´ve managed to camp about 80% of our nights which is nice since it allows us to spread out and not dominate an albergue and we can go to sleep when we want and wake up on our own schedule.
I could write about feet for days, but since this email is already pretty long I´ll give just a brief summary. We don´t know why this trail is worse than others that we´ve done but it is. It may be the long sections of hot and flat are very conducive to blister forming, or it may just be the meseta testing us to see if we really deserve Santiago. Every day there are long and involved foot care sessions. Some people are boasting up to 16 blisters and the popping and cleaning process in the morning and evening can be very lengthy. When we stand up to get going, the blisters are very tender so it often takes about 20 painful minutes to get them warmed up and for the passer by it looks like there is no way we could actually hike 30km a day, but somehow, day in and day out, everyone digs deep and we get it done.
We´re now in Rabanal del Camino, a small village perched in the mountains at the base of a pass. We´re taking a day off and spirits are absolutely soaring. We´re camping in a little garden and have done laundry, taken showers, and are resting our feet in between wandering the cobblestone streets to the local store to get fruit and cold drinks. This day of rest should do our crushed bodies some serious good as we head back into the lush mountains.
Santiago in a week.
The Camino´s workin´ us and we´re likin´ it.