Not the best start on my second day. Rain! It has been raining all night, tapping and drumming on the roof and windows. Some of my fellow pilgrims got up at five o’clock, rustling gently as they packed and left, but hearing the rain I just fell back asleep. When I finally wake up, it is still raining and I am the only one left in the room.
So it’s a slight change in gear today – get the full length tights instead of the capris and shake open the Altus poncho, but I don’t think I’ll bother with the rain trousers. I’ll soon get warm when I start walking. When I am finally ready, there are only a few people left downstairs, so I have a quick coffee and a banana to last me to elusive Hontanas. And then into the rain I go.
At least the walk is easy, and I fall into a good rhythm and keep my eyes fixed on the trail in front of me. The couple just ahead of me turn off the trail towards San Bol, and I wonder how they will hang the hammocks now that someone has cut down the trees, but it looks like they are already planting new ones. Gradually the rain eases, now that my shoes are finally soaked, and I flip back the poncho hood, walk a bit, open the front zip, walk a bit more, then finally take the poncho off and hang it off my pack to dry. Some young pilgrims pass me in shorts and T-shirts, as if rain doesn’t faze them at all. They laugh and point to my superhero cape flapping in the breeze, opening their arms as if they are flying, and I laugh with them. I’d love to be able to lie on the wind and float over the meseta.
I am aiming for lunch in Hontanas, but Hontanas is nowhere to be seen. Most churches on the camino are perched on a hill, however small, so you can see where you are going and guesstimate how far it is, but for some reason the good people of Hontanas decided to build theirs in a dip in the landscape. Just when you think you must have got it all wrong, walked past it, come off the trail somehow or misread the guidebook – boom! – there it is, with its promise of café con leche, food and rest.
The rain repellent lads are there already, sitting outside in the sunshine to dry out, and greet me with flapping wing arms again. I worry I am about to get a trail name, something like Bat Woman or Big Bird, but instead they offer me a seat and ask me where I am from. Norway, I say, so they call me Norway. They are Czech, but in my head I name them the Rain Men. I ask how far they are going today, they say San Anton. I don’t blame them. As they leave, I am still enjoying my Aquarius and waiting for my pan bimbo with lomo a la plancha. I hope they have mayonnaise. (They do.)
The magnificent ruins of the monastery of San Anton straddle the camino, and inside is a very basic donativo albergue with a shower and toilet and a dozen beds. They offer a communal meal and what must be the most atmospheric surroundings in the dark. Imagine sitting inside the walls, around a camp fire, with the open sky above, watching the stars and the moon gliding past a glassless window … I go in to have a look, take some photos and leave a donation as a thank you for being there. The Rain Men are smoking on the grass outside and wave as I leave. I doubt I will see them again and wish them a buen camino.
There is a bar right past the arch but I resist temptation and press on towards Castrojeriz. The sun is baking now, and the last stretch is on tarmac, with no shade. I am very grateful for my sun hat and my water bottle, and I am already looking very much forward to my anchor beer.
I am staying at Albergue Rosalia, and as luck would have it there is a Mesón just across the road for my anchor beer, so I stop and have a little chat with some of the early birds who arrived hours ago and are rehydrating. At the albergue I am given a non-bunk bed, what luxury! As is taking off the half-dried Hokas and putting on my sandals … bliss. I take the insoles out of the Hokas and leave them by my bed to dry them, they’ll be fine tomorrow.
After a quick shower and some laundry I go back across the road to find food, and as luck would have it the same early birds! The Mesón lets me have half a pilgrim menu – a massive ensalada mixta and a dessert, so I choose a lemon yogurt. Good for the bones, and deliciously refreshing.
As we sit there, more pilgrims fill the tables around us, and some of them have not only wet hair, but wet jackets … it’s started raining again! Those of us who still have clothes ‘drying’ outside, run across to save them, and when I have got it all back in and found it is pretty dry anyway – camino dry – I decide to have an early night. I need my sleep more than anything, so into the down bag I go, hoping the rain will stop by tomorrow for the walk up That Hill …