Yesterday we stepped out of the town of Rabé de las Calzadas onto the Meseta, the vast plateau region of Spain. The Camino as it crosses over the Meseta is a dusty (or muddy, if it rains), stony, flat-to- hilly path through rolling brown fields as far as the eye can see. This section of the Camino is a treeless, shade-less walk where the vista is always the same all day, every day, for the week or so it takes to cross it.
The days on the Meseta feel long but, having crossed much of this stretch two years ago in driving rain and boot-sucking mud, I can attest that it's better to cross the Meseta in the hot sun, as we did yesterday, than in the rain.
We walked 18 kilometers - about 11 miles - yesterday from Rabé de las Calzadas to the town of Hontanas.
As one approaches Hontanas one sees a sign advertising an albergue in the town 2 kilometers away. Upon seeing this sign one is hit with two reactions:
1. Is it possible that the town is still another 2 kilometers away? And,
2. If the town is only 2 k's away, why can't I see it somewhere out on this flat, endless horizon?
But you keep walking, keep looking, keep hoping something resembling a town will soon come into view.
Eventually you come to another sign advertising the same albergue, but this sign tells you the town is now 1 kilometer away. You still can't see it.
Finally you reach a big, showy sign announcing that the albergue is 500 meters away. But where the heck's the town?! You scan the scene before you and all you see is:
But you keep walking - what else can you do? - and then thirty seconds later you suddenly see:
Like an oasis - or maybe a mirage? - in the middle of the high desert, up has popped Hontanas, the El Dorado of the Meseta, the Las Vegas of the Camino.
Well, mayhaps I hyperbolate just a weence.
But though Hontanas may be a one-street town, that street is lined with albergues and cafes, offering plenty of beds and food, which is about all the entertainment a weary pilgrim requires.
We were hoping to - and managed to - get beds at the same albergue we stayed at last time, El Puntido.
El Puntido is the coolest albergue on the Hontanas strip, and was one of our favorites on our last Camino.
It's got a nice bar,
...5€ beds in lovely dorm rooms,,
...and a little store that sells snacks and necessities. But the store is locked and if you want to enter it you have to ring the store's the door bell, after which the hospitaliera who is busy registering pilgrims, working the bar, and doing the pilgrims' laundry, will drop what she's doing and open the store for you.
The showers were about average.albergue showers.
There was plenty of hot water and a hook on the wall upon which to hang your clothes, which was nice, but made for a tricky situation since the showers were co-ed. This meant that you had to either hang your clean clothes over the stall door where the'd get wet from the already damp stall walls and the spray from your shower, or you could hang your clothes on the hook outside the stall where they'd stay dry, but then after your shower you'd have to hop outside the stall for a moment to grab your clothes and risk flashing some poor guy who might be waiting in line to use the shower.
I opted to hang my clothes on the hook and after my shower to crack the stall door and take a teeny peek outside to make sure there were no guys in the room, then zip out and grab my clothes and get dressed in the stall while holding my clothes, being careful not to drop them or let them touch the wet walls of the stall. It was a delicate operation but I pulled it off splendidly.
Dinner was a 9.50€ pilgrim meal served in the homey, rustic-looking albergue dining room.
The food was so good.
I ordered a seafood paella for starters,
...followed by the tastiest, tenderest beef stew with a side of fries to dip into the juice,
...and for desert I chose, of course, the rice pudding option.
Our very nice dinner partners were a Spanish university professor of languages and an Episcopalian priest who, unlike the Catholic diocesan priest we met a few days earlier on the Camino, felt no need to hike in his cassock.
To each his own Camino.
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
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