This was quite a day and I wrote nothing, just tried to process it, let it lie. Now, early next day, let's see if there is a way to tell it which approaches my perception of the experience.
Juanma provided muesli for breakfast, a first in Spain for me; it's usually bread and jam. Reiner and I pick up the conversation, having parked the stumbling block. I ask him if he has visited Tamera, in Portugal. Yes, I lived there for many years. A tour guide for German tourists, it's how I found out about the camino. That's Tavira, beautiful place, I know it. Tamera is something else entirely, a German community in the Alentejo. No, never heard of it.
He explains more about the camino and the many routes. He has been 7 years on the road and covered many of them. Sometimes he becomes a host at an albergue for a while, usually in France. So you speak French then? Not much, English is the common language.
We get on to how the language we speak influences national characteristics. I expect there are books on the subject. He talks about EU funding, how capital investment has to be followed by local running costs, how capital projects languish when neglected. It wouldn't happen in England or Germany, he says. I suggest English and German language structure and character are not the same. He agrees. As far as efficiency goes, the Swiss are top in Europe, then Germany, Scandinavian countries. He finds Switzerland very hospitable to pilgrims as well as highly organised. Swiss is not a language though, they speak German, French, Italian. Does that make a difference? Oh yes, it does, he says. In Tamera, an eco-village with links with Findhorn, the introductory week was very structured. They explained the place conceptually, you could ask questions and they would explain in another way. Findhorn's introductory week is experiential, you feel it as well as know it.
Reiner heads off to Burgos, going towards France for winter. Juanma and I hug warmly, a real heart connection. I tell him I'll see him again when I have learnt Spanish. Francisco and I head west; he tells me Juanma spent two years on the streets of Madrid before taking up the pilgrim life. Now he walks the various routes, spends time hosting in albergues, looks content with his life.
A whole new career option has opened up.
And if you want to know which of the the two pilgrim hospitaleiros inspired me most, it was the open minded, open hearted one, though the serious one who had all the answers was fascinating to listen to.
After a few minutes, Francisco slowed his pace and I went ahead, both of us wanting the solitude.
Progress was quick, though muddy stretches slowed things a bit. I dropped down into Hontanas just after 10.30. Plenty going on, albergues with TV as well as wifi, bars, shops.
I stop by the church. An old man emerges from a bar with a little dog yapping. I go low, to try to reassure it. The church bells start. It is Sunday. Standing so close, they sound loud. I drop into standing meditation, experiencing the moment. Half open my eyes, see the old man next to me, holding the dog now. Drop again. Overwhelmed by the moment start sobbing, then smiling. This sequence continues for ten minutes or so, as the peals keep going. They stop, I hear running water from the church fountain. A cock crows three times, which seems rather late. I go to the fountain, tears running down my face. The sign says the water is not guaranteed drinkable. This is connected to a spring. People have been drinking it for hundreds of years. I drink deeply. Splash my third eye scar. The bells call the faithful to church, I see a few going in. Not for me, I go to the bar. It is small, quite dark and it looks like four generations of the family are there. Including the old man and his dog. I thank him, ask the woman at the bar for a carahillo. She hears English, I think it's Spanish. Cafe solo with brandy. Ah, carahillo, the h as if clearing phlegm from the back of the throat. She prepares it carefully. Removes the cup before the coffee is too diluted. Puts it in front of me, with the bottle cognac. Good.
New options arise. Stay here, see if Joe and Dylan catch up, John too, somewhere behind, maybe wander back to see Juanma, share the experience, return to sleep. Push on.
I take out the Tablet, thinking about a photo, maybe write a bit. Want wifi, she asks. Please. The signal is strong, the password simple, but the Tablet refuses to connect. The journey wants to move on, not cling to the place because of the experience.
Castrojeriz is next, 10 km. The track picks up the quiet road. Fast walking. I consider the effect of long periods walking on the imperceptible camber roads have to prevent water laying. Stressing the ankles. I walk in the middle. Recall the annual 50 mile walk at school. A challenge for the older children. I was around 16 when I did it. Mostly roads through the night. There's an option. In the verge a cast off fluorescent vest. Pick it up. Thanks. The school walk stopped years ago, too much traffic, maybe someone killed or injured.
Catch up Francisco before Castrojeriz, he passed me in Hontanas. He is stopping for lunch, then maybe to Itero. I wander ahead, find the place lacking in ambience, push on through. Plenty of fuel in the tank, topped up with chocolate.
The sun comes out and I remove layers. Up the hill for a great view of where I came from, down the other side steeply, slowly, thinking about shin splints.
The sun goes in and it is cold. Consider layering up or speeding up. Shivering, the body's response, wastes energy. Speed up. Arrive at an alternative route, albergue 3km, Itero del Castillo. Take the other way. After two km another sign, this time with a picture of the albergue. 1km to the right. I can see the castillo. Snow on the mountains beyond. The other way drops to a bridge with a traffic light on red. Thinking it is either end of the village, check again, light still on red. Turn right, the sun out again.
At the albergue municipal, a family having lunch. 3.15 on a fiesta Sunday. Come in.
I'm the first pilgrim. The only one as it turns out. Itero de la Vega is down the road.
Here is good. Drop the pack, take a stroll in the sun for photos, some bread and honey.
Consider a rest day here, to catch up with writing. Evening meal very good, a salad followed by egg and chips. Some wine.
Let's see what the morning brings.