I’d agreed to meet some pilgrims for breakfast in the same place to continue the conversation in the morning, but when I got there, it was closed! I went to the nearest place instead and there they were – and there were also pintxos to be had, so that’s what I had for breakfast. Turns out last night’s pilgrims were part of a large and lively pilgrim family of all ages and nationalities, and when offered to tag along I was tempted. I still had to get some bits from a shop though so I said I might catch up.
Crossing a dry river and into the hot, dry, dusty fields for the day. I just got my head down and got on with it, though joyfulness escaped me. Some mornings are just a little harder than others and for some reason this one sucked from the start.
At one point a very cheerful lady passed me, then I passed her, then she passed me again, saying buen camino every time, until we both stopped under a road bridge to photograph this little gem just before a tiny town. We started talking, started walking, decided to stop for a cold drink, and then it turned out she was also part of the pilgrim family I met in the morning, and they were all there! I soon realised the cheerful lady wasn’t too cheerful at all, it was me that let the pilgrim side down with a case of the grumps, but they all cheered me up.
After a short break I carried on my now much merrier way alone. This really is practice for the meseta up ahead – long, straight stretches through fields, with pilgrims dotted along the trail in front of you and an almost hypnotic sameness, emphasised by the rhythmic crunch-crunch-crunch of your own footsteps. Nothing for miles but you and your own thoughts. I think this is why some people love the meseta and some people hate it, but I found it wonderfully soothing and calming.
At one stop I ran into the Canadian lady, who was studying her guidebook and rethinking her stages, just like I had done the day before. She took a photo of a couple of my guidebook pages on her mobile – a good tip – to get more info on accommodation choices, and booked herself a room as a treat – or a retreat? It’s not unusual to feel that you need some time to yourself, a door to lock behind you, time to review, rethink and regroup. Or just plain relax! It’s amazing what 8+ hours of uninterrupted sleep can do.
Beware the last stretch from Villamayor del Rio to Belorado, 5 kms along the motorway with no real shelter from the sun; we ran out of water there the year before in the blistering heat.
I was staying at Cuatro Cantones albergue, which came highly recommended but was even nicer than I expected – a bar/restaurant upstairs, pilgrim kitchen facilities downstairs, large garden outside and even a pool! I had a top bunk, but it was placed so I could put my foot on the next one to get down safely and a tad more elegantly. After a shower and change, and handing my laundry to the lovely hospitalera, I strolled out for a drink on the square with pilgrims I had met in other small towns. Cuatro Cantones offers a pilgrim meal in the evening, but I went out in search of pork cheeks – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. I didn’t find any but I had a nice meal with a young man who was loving walking on his own. I never saw him again but I hope he still enjoyed every step of the way.
Back at Cuatro Cantones the pilgrim family I had met so many times during the day had finished their meal at a long table in the restaurant, preparing to say goodbye to one first (but not last) time pilgrim who was leaving from Burgos the next day. It was all very emotional – I had only known him for 24 hours, since we met just before curfew in Santo Domingo, but I could well imagine what it would be like for the others to lose one they had made their own, and for him to have to leave them there and go home. I had a glass of wine with them and celebrated the good times on the road and plans to return; the goodbyes could wait until the morning.