First walking day! I have no doubt slept lightly, or badly, or both, being in an unfamiliar bed, with people coming in late from town, and snoring, and trips to the loo in the night … all in a bad night’s sleep for a pilgrim. I will get used to it. As I will get used to getting up, packing up and setting off without question, because it’s what we do. Looks like it will be a good day for it too.
The morning air will be cool as I walk up to the cathedral one last time, and stop for a coffee and maybe a Nutella croissant on the square before I reluctantly start on the stairs out of town.
The meseta is (in)famous for its flat, open space – some love it, some loathe it, and somehow it’s become the ‘disposable’ part of the camino in some pilgrim circles, with people advising others to ‘skip the flat bit in the middle’ if they have little time. I will admit the meseta was never my favourite bit, maybe that’s why I chose to walk it this time. To enjoy it for what it is.
The cloud cover makes for a more comfortable walking temperature on my first day, and after a leisurely stroll with a few scattered buen caminos I look forward to settling in for a proper break at Rabé de las Calzadas. Not a fan of the massive white bread bocadillo, I’ll get an omelette, maybe, and my first Aquarius (limón, por favor), and maybe a small clara. From my seat outside the bar I can see the fountain further up the village; must remember to wet my hat or headband in it if it gets any hotter, and refill my water bottle.
The walk towards Hornillos is long and flat and dusty and there is no shade, apart from a small copse of trees just off the trail – there is a pump there, with icy cold, clear water, to refresh an overheating pilgrim on a sunny day.
That final stretch into Hornillos will seem long, even more so with it being my first day, so I hope I have bumped into someone to talk to. There should be lots of people walking at this time of year, but many of them will be savvy enough to start early to beat the heat. I never walk in the dark and start when I’ve had my coffee, so I sometimes end up walking in the hottest part of the day … hence this year’s sun hat. I have had overheating problems before and I categorically do not want to experience that again.
But eventually I manage to get down that last rocky hill, using my Pacerpoles as handbrakes to spare my knees, and start on the last flat stretch into town. How come it always seems so long? Like someone is gently towing the village the other way and you don’t get any closer.
I’ll no doubt stop for an anchor beer by the tiny square, to celebrate my first arrival. There will be little groups, camino families, and some singles dotted around writing in their diaries or checking their phones – blogging, possibly. I will join one of them where there is a free seat, and just sit and enjoy my clara, or maybe a Mahou, and the small dish of olives that came with it, and look at the church and the muni from The Way, where I once had James Nesbitt’s bunk and met JoyBoy and the big Fibber … so many years ago.
I was going to avoid the muni this time and stay at the Meeting Point, because I have heard so much about it. Looks good – cupboard space and reading lights! They do communal meals too, but I won’t do that today.
Time for the first clumsy unpacking, grab the arrival bag and hit the shower, then do some laundry and probably get my own clothes line out because the ones in the sun are full. My pack is quite small and well organised, but on the first day it will no doubt feel unfamiliar and odd, with things refusing to fit or go where I want them to. Give it a few days.
At last, showered and changed, with wet hair and my after-walk sandals on, I go downstairs, maybe chat to a few people I have buen caminoed during the day, and head to the newish bar where I had a meal last time. I’ll sit on my own and have chicken and salad – no pilgrim menu, too much on a hot day – and phone home before I go back to the square and join the others. I’ll probably end up talking to a nice retired couple, or a group of students, or a nurse (I always meet nurses) walking with a friend, or a group of Irish people (there are always Irish people) on a breakneck schedule, walking one week every year. And I’ll listen and laugh and get my guidebook out to check something for someone, and there will be wine, and it will get dark, and as ten o’clock looms we all start drifting back to our dorms. My clothes will be dry, but cold, so I leave them over the pack in my cupboard – I’ll only put them straight back on again tomorrow morning – and my sleeping bag is so comfortable and comforting, and never mind the reading light, as soon as I hit that pillow I’ll be out for the count.
A good first day on the meseta – and no blisters!