After Logrono and the glorious La Rioja region of Spain, things start to get real. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that, “The first part of the Camino is a test of your body, the second a test of your mind, the third a test of your spirit.” Well we have now entered part two, the mental challenge of ‘la meseta’.
The Twilight Zone
On the Camino de Santiago, you learn a lot from your fellow pilgrims, and I was told that many pilgrims either walk the last 100 km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, or they start at the beginning of the Camino Frances in Saint Jean Pied de Port and skip the second section (‘la meseta’ or plateau) all together (they probably go wine tasting for a couple of days …well, that is what I would do!). I did notice that there seemed to be fewer people walking this part of The Way of St. James. But why?
Well, it is really boring. Plain and simple. You are walking by fields. And the next day there are more fields. One day I walked through mud all day, actually it was more like treading through mud, during a heavy rainstorm. You see fewer pilgrims and you run into them all of the time.
But I have to disagree with pilgrim wisdom here. I did not find it boring, and in fact, despite the monotony of the scenery, I am very grateful for this stretch of the Camino. Sometimes we distract ourselves from facing our truth and this stretch of the Camino afforded me few distractions. I worked through a lot of my heartbreak with all of the time to think amidst the fields. I read and wrote a ton, too. I strongly recommend walking this part of the Camino if you have an intention to do some soul searching.
Castilla y Leon
There are also beautiful sites along this part of the Camino, in Castilla y Leon, most notably Burgos, Leon and Astorga. Castilla y Leon is the largest region in Spain and the third largest in the European Union, with approximately 2.5 million inhabitants. It is known for agriculture, including wheat and wine. Tourism is unreal in this region, too. There are more UNESCO protected historic sites, castles, cathedrals, churches, and archaeologist sites in this province than one pilgrim can get through in a week’s time! I do recommend seeing the cathedrals in Burgos, Leon and Astorga. Also, the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos was extremely interesting and modern, which was such a treat to visit since I had walked by the archaeological dig site the prior day.
Hazards (AKA Dirty Old Men)
For the most part, everyone I met walking the Camino were lovely people. But, if you are a woman alone beware of the dirty old SPANISH men! It seemed to be a generational thing. Men in their 60-70s were on the prowl walking the Camino. I thought machismo was more of a Latin American epidemic, but it runs through the veins of these wrinkled, hair-receding, slightly overweight Romeos, too.
My first experience with harassment happened the first day or two of the Camino when I walked with an older Spanish man who wanted to practice his English. He seemed sweet when he introduced himself and I wanted to practice Spanish, so I agreed to the ‘intercambio’. Once he figured out I could speak Spanish he launched into story after story of all the women he has loved over the years, including the woman that ‘got away’ 50 years ago when they met walking the Camino. He had a current wife, but blah blah, he was on the Camino to find new love. Eyebrow raise. (To be clear, not my eyebrow.) He also explained to me the art of seducing a woman. He said that you never know where you stand with a woman on a date until you ‘accidently’ brush her pinkie finger with yours and see how she responds. What a Don Juan!
Don Juan and I parted ways after I said to him in my best Spanish, “do you know any stories that do not involve sex?” and then he said he needed to take a rest under the next tree! I ran into Don Juan one or two more times on the Camino always in the company of young women!
That’s the thing about the Camino, you see the same people over and over again. One night I stayed at a hotel 3-4 km off the direct route. It was a tiny town and so this place was the only bar, restaurant and accommodation in the vicinity. The manager running it was very nice and I had a great meal that night before heading off to bed. Late into the night I heard the thunderous sound of a drunk Spanish man down the hall. I was surprised to hear that since it is such a peaceful part of Spain, but didn’t concern myself with it.
The next morning I am at breakfast and a dirty old Spanish man comes out of nowhere into the café and gasps, ‘una peregrina’ grabs my face with both hands and starts kissing my face (Spanish besos). I was shocked and appalled. The whole interaction left me dumbstruck. Was this the drunken man from the night before?
And turns out he is walking the Camino, too. Not only did we run into each other almost every day for a week but he also stayed or ate dinner at every place I stopped on my journey (if I didn’t see him I could hear his thunderous and intoxicated voice late into the night). I finally ‘confronted’ him and told him he was being impolite to me, which he apologized for and subsequently began bowing to me like I was the princess of the Camino every time I passed him. At least he got the princess part right. Strange man.
I felt like a prop for these men. A projection of something or someone they had unfinished business with or needed to prove to themselves they had reached resolution. Perhaps, I was projecting on them, too. Once I was able to separate the self from these interactions I found my flow again and power walked my way through Castilla y Leon.
A cultural note – Speaking with other Spaniards on the Camino, they found this behavior embarrassing and believed the ‘machismo way’ was dying out with this generation. Time will tell. In the meantime, talking non-stop about your blisters (even better to show them!) and walking quickly is usually enough to rid yourself of unwanted attention.
266 miles down, 184 miles to go! Thank you for entering the twilight zone with me! Please use the comment space to request topics you would like covered. Also, if you liked this post and want to read more, join ‘la princesa del camino’ newsletter to make sure you do not miss a post. ¡Buen Camino!