25 June: O Pedrouzo to Santiago

20140625-163409-59649419.jpgThere’s magic on the camino! The day we were racing along the street in Madrid, hoping we were heading the right way, a little anxious about missing our train, a young man stopped us and we chatted for a few minutes. He would be leading a group of pilgrims to Santiago later in the summer…..in our wildest dreams we would not have expected to bump into each other today walking into the city. We have both taken very different paths, but started and ended with our paths crossing. He’s the one on the right in the green t-shirt. Seeing you today, Roberto, was one of those special moments. Thanks for being such an enthusiastic advocate for our cause too – we really appreciate it.
The chance meetings with Roberto and hearing him tell his group what we are doing confirmed again that this camino has really been about others. It’s not about what we personally have achieved – every day we have been mindful of those we are walking for. On days when we walked in the rain, on days we have run out of drinking water, on days we have had cold showers – or no showers at all – on days when we have had to carry extra water we have thought of those who do not access to fresh, clean, safe drinking water. Puddles today reminded us again.

20140625-164529-60329442.jpg We have prayed that people will be moved to join with us and GIVE. And they have. People have pressed euros into our hands and trusted us to get the money to the project. One little girl, only eight years old, was found by her mother praying that God would show her a way to help. God answered and required a sacrifice – she listened and sold enough of her toys to provide one person with water for life.
Life. This is a hard word for us today. Upon our arrival in Santiago, we heard the news that Grandpa’s brother had died overnight. People are dying every day for want of safe water. Today death feels close – and we feel so very far away.
Even before we had heard the news, we had taken a wee detour this morning to a stone wall that we remembered and we had taken a photo especially for Grandpa:

20140625-170906-61746433.jpgNow we give thanks that in recent years Uncle chose life, eternal life; he chose to “vaya con Dios”. His celebration is just beginning.
And we joined in a celebration too. A large part of the Primitivo family has reunited over the past days and yesterday we planned a farewell lunch. Even walking up (or *running* up in the case of my four kids and my new kid Alberto) the Mount of Joy this morning we bumped into some who we had not seen for days:

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So we invited them along too….quite a party we ended up.

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After our delishimoso lunch, we returned to the albergue where everyone was in party mode after finishing their caminos. Our plan was to rest before plodding on tomorrow, but we had one more drama to navigate. The phone died.
Faced with the prospect of no blogging, no pictures, no strava, no books, none of our online documents, and most difficultly no messages home just when we are feeling very far away, we decided to trek across town to the iphone store (even though it was 6:30pm and they weren’t answering their phone). An hour later we arrived. It only took five minutes to discover there would be no magic solution. So we walked despondently home again. An extra 10 or 12km on what was to have been a relative rest day (under 20km).
We gratefully despatched messages to family and friends on the albergue’s computer……then my knight in shining armour appeared in the inbox with a solution. We should have just waited for him to wake up on the other side of the world! The good news is the phone has been revived. Magic!

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20140625-230351-83031429.jpg Destination: Santiago
Diistance: 18.5 plus another 10 or so!
Cumulative Distance: 1,212/912km
88km for the girls to go

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Weather: overcast 21 degrees
Dinner: again, it was lunch that was memorable at Casa Manolo’s

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24 June: Melide to O Pedrouzo

20140624-163929-59969349.jpgTwo years ago we left Melide in the drizzle after Rob had bought some yummy treats from the bakery next to the albergue. We ate the big buttery croissants at the top of a steep climb.
This time the bakery was closed, but the weather was almost as threatening. The steep climb seemed to have been graded away and we flew up it, overtaking a couple of pilgrims without even trying to! In fact, a few times someone would say, “Oh I remember after this bridge is a climb” or “There’s a big hill into this town”….only to discover that this time the hills seemed like little bumps!

20140624-162840-59320086.jpg Last time we took an early morning pic at this marker – we had to do the same again today. Then each time we saw somewhere we had taken a break, the kids marvelled at how often we had stopped and they called for another photo in remembrance!

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20140624-163603-59763681.jpg Big siblings, Daddy, Grandpa – do you remember any of these? How about these water crossings?

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20140624-171943-62383417.jpgOr this albergue we stayed in after a whole day’s walk? Today we were there before ten and walked on to do what we had done the next day last time!

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It is encouraging to see the growth of just a couple of years – and perhaps particularly of the past two months. When we arrived, we hoped to manage 15-20km on average, and at that rate we would have been arriving in Santiago in a couple of weeks. As it turned out we have managed much more, and ought to be in Santiago tomorrow. When we thought we would try to not exceed 20km in a day, we did not dream of the girls making it to 1,000km. 800 sounded like a commendable achievement for them. But they are now just over 100km from reaching the thousand.
We have learnt they are much stronger than we would have imagined and they have grown so much. At first, they carried only their clothing, sleep sack, toothbrush and water, but now they beg to be allowed to take some of the food supplies as well. At first, even the shortest legs were strong, but her mind would yell out that she’d done enough after a few hours. Now she can tell herself to not be grumpy even if she really wants to be. This is no mean feat – being grumpy can be quite a performance. She starts off asking how-far-questions, then increases the frequency with which they are asked. Then she sighs and humphs and slows down. She insists she does not want a break, but walks so slowly she’s barely moving. Then the shoe scraping starts. At first just a gentle scuff of the sole on the path, and if no one pays any attention to that, she can increase the intensity and give a good kick with every step. Or maybe a stomp for a change. Don’t forget very audible sighing continues all this time.
Mostly this is under control now. If she wants to, she can choose to be positive or tell us if there’s a problem.
This youngest child made a startling discovery of her own a week or so ago. I looked back down the hill and she was walking bent over clutching her calf. Five minutes later, she was still doing the same thing. Then she spurted forward calling out to me, “Mum! I’ve got big muscles. They’re bigger than Levi’s. He doesn’t have any, but look you can feel mine are hard when I walk.” And it’s all true!

This prompted me to ask the others what they have learnt.
Micaiah is astounded he can actually walk 37km on one day and that many days of walking can result in such a distance covered. He has also noticed a maturing in managing his emotions. A week ago he was reprimanded for rude speech – once he would have either got angry or sulked about this. This time he told himself that it was actually well-deserved and he should not be grumpy at me.
Levi’s observations have been more concrete: snakes can jump, hail hurts when it hits your head and is the size of a golfball, and he likes clams.

20140624-163218-59538294.jpgHere are the leftovers of the hail storm that made such an impression – fourteen hours later! It was one serious storm and we were out in it! We thought someone had thrown a cup of ice cubes on us from a second-storey window when it started!
Tessa discovered she loves to sleep in – but let’s face it, when you’re ten years old and you’ve not gone to sleep until after 10pm and your mother wakes you at 6, you’re going to think highly of sleep-ins! She has also noticed that there are times when your legs fel like a machine that is not part of you – they just keep working even when you don’t think about them. They keep moving and moving even when you are thinking about other things and you have to tell them to stop if you don’t want to go on.
Destination: O Pedrouzo
Distance: 34km without complaint
Cumulative Distance: 1,194/894km
106km for the girls to get to 1,000km
Weather: nice and cool…..rain held off
Dinner: well, seeing as lunch finished after 5pm, there really wasn’t much need! We ate at the same restaurant we ate at last time – lentils, vege puree, Russian salad, sausages and eggs on rice for first plates…..lasagne for all for second, and various cakes for dessert

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6 June: Mansilla to Leon

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We made it to Leon. This signifies the end of the Camino Frances for us; Frances pilgrims keep walking westwards towards Santiago, but we turn right and head north to Oviedo on the San Salvador route. Another stage begins.
When we walked two years ago, we had planned to start in Leon at the wonderful cathedral, but when we arrived at the bus station, everyone was tired and it seemed easier to hop on the next bus to Astorga and start from there instead of navigating a biggish city – I was disappointed to not even get a peek at the cathedral spires, but hoped to return some time. Little did I realise it would be so soon. Today we kept getting glimpses as we zipped around climbing the old city walls, doing city-housekeeping jobs, and buying pastries made by hand in a village near here (so we were told).

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Where better to celebrate than right in front of the cathedral? The kids played “compare the two spires” and “compare it to Notre Dame in Paris” and then we went inside.
WOW!!!! The colours of the stained glass windows were like nothing we have ever seen. So rich, so deep.
But the timing was wrong. There was not long until the cathedral would close and so we did not want to pay the fee to just rush around in a frenzy. Would we stay here another day so we could go tomorrow? We want to both stay and to move on.
Eventually we reached the consensus that there were good reasons to keep walking (the main one being if we wait a day we will have to carry and extra day’s food because we would arrive at the last shop on a Sunday and it would be closed).
So the first time we passed through Leon we missed the cathedral completely….the second time we got a tantalizing taste……here’s to the third!
Outside the cathedral an ancient Roman market was being set up – I’m sure it will be really buzzing later in the evening, but we have a long day ahead of us, so had to be content with wandering round it as the cathedral bells tolled six and half past..

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Destination: Leon

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Distance: 20km + 10 round town
Cumulative Distance: 742km
258km to go
Weather: 23 degrees
Dinner: meat empanada and salad followed by chocolate mousse

PS We have been having lots of aniseedy-proudy-daddy days and so had to replenish our stash of aniseed balls….check out the shop where we did this (completely unlike anything we are familiar with, but very common here):

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All in the same tiny shop!

5 May: El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mullas

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β€œThe real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
A good quote to take into yet another day of the Meseta, which proved to be in many ways just like the other days.

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We have passed many many many heads of wheat. Come to think of it, we have actually walked through many many many ACRES of grain. While it is not exactly a revelation, it has struck me that God knows every single one of them. That is quite some thought!

We walked with eyes open and saw shadows:

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We walked with eyes open and found another Hobbiton:

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We walked with eyes open and saw not only a path…

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…but a girl choosing to walk beside me in companionable silence…

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The children walked with ears open too, and played a new game, Rustle. Whenever they heard something rustle in the grass at the side of the path they would stop and try to spot the source of the noise. In this was they saw quite a number of lizards of varying colour and enough mice to keep the Pied Piper in business for a long time. I heard the rustles, but preferring to keep some distance between rodents and me, I just trudged on in my usual steady rhythm, while kids ran and skipped and stopped and backtracked and jumped in the ditch and sometimes even walked in all their exuberance of youth.
Three of us have sore throats and feel a bit under the weather, and so we were contemplating stopping at the first village, but when we got there, it was much too early to stop and we decided to keep going. Arriving at the albergue, we discovered there’s a virus going round and some people were opting for the bus to Leon. We got a room almost to ourselves, so will keep the germs within the family – we’re sharing with Laszlo, the Hungarian, who we have been in close contact with for a few days now – he’s virtually family!

Destination: Mansill de las Mullas

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Distance: 20km
Cumulative Distance: 722km
278km to go to 1,000
Weather: 18 degrees (we’re ignoring the rain forecast for Saturday – live one day at a time)
Dinner: rice salad on a bed of lettuce with beetroot on the side

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PS

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We went. Front row seats. At the end Micaiah asked if we could go to another concert – he was in awe of the music and tried out a range of metaphors to describe what we heard. I was in awe of the guy’s expertise and obvious relationship with his instrument.

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4 June: Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero

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We felt like the legs of a caterpillar. Indeed, we looked somewhat like a caterpillar, a human one squirming our way along the path. We, the five of us, had set off fairly late having lingered over cups of medicinal tea and taken silly photos. We were just commenting on how nice it was to be walking alone without anyone else in sight when suddenly a group of about fifty people marched up behind us. Within minutes we were swallowed by them and found ourselves marching along in step with them – the human caterpillar out to catch other unsuspecting pilgrims.

20140604-152256-55376460.jpg (this is but a teeny-tiny portion of the group, just overtaking two backpack-wearing pilgrims, who valued their lives and waited for traffic to pass before crossing the road!)
Which reminds me….yesterday as we entered Sahagun Levi had excitedly called out, “Snake, it’s alive!” A car mechanic raced over to see what the fuss was all about and called his colleague to view “Una cobra!” Well, if he was about to call it a cobra, I decided not to question whether it was actually just a large worm or not! πŸ˜‰ It was about the thickness of a pencil and a bit longer, and it writhed and wriggled about, so the snake count increases to 4 alive, 1 dead.

Back to today. For ten kilometres we walked as part of the insect. Our curiosity overtook our poor Spanish skills and we discovered this group was walking to the same destination as us, then taking a bus to the next place they would walk from. They would cover a good distance this way. Actually, truth be known, for a group of evidently retired folks, they were covering a good distance under their own steam – they were walking in excess of 5km an hour – in fact, their little legs (this is not being rude – it is merely being descriptive – they were all short!!) were going at a fair clip and if ever one of them stepped off into the bushes (or the middle of the picnic area – sigh) to relieve themselves, they ran to “catch up” again. And they talked non-stop.
At the first bar we came across, we took a break and let the horde get ahead of us. Unlike some pilgrims, we don’t object to sharing the path with non-backpack-carrying, bus-taking walkers, but we just didn’t care to join them!
It would be fair to say that by lunchtime we were starting to understand the bus-takers better;-) However, the problem is you don’t know that a section is going to be downright boring until you’ve finished walking it – so how would you know when to take the bus? And if we had taken the bus today, we would not have seen a big green lizard or heard frogs croaking or marvelled at the long line of trees.

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It is also likely we would not have noticed the mountains in the distance – no longer just far away to the right of us, hazy silhouettes, but some now appearing much closer and clearer. We suspect these are the ones we will be climbing in under a week as we head northwards! We doubt we’ll be up as high as the snow that still lingers, but the kids remain hopeful!

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When the frogs and lizard have failed to really make up for three hours of admittedly mundane walking, there’s nothing like a bit of self-made celebration to break the monotony and hitting the 400/700km marks seemed a good reason to do so.

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Destination: El Burgo Ranero

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Distance: 18.2km (the short walk meant there was time for a game of makeshift cricket)

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Cumulative Distance: 702km
298km to go to 1,000km (which we should reach somewhere round Grandes de Salime which is a middle-of-nowhere spot in the mountains)…..then there will be another 200km or so to make it to Santiago depending on which route we decide to take, and a further 100 or so to walk to Muxia and Fisterra on the coast, the sea being an appropriate ending for a walk-for-water (doing this extra route would also mean that the girls walk the full thousand as well as the rest of us, which understandably has some appeal for them)
Weather: cool wind blowing, but not howling all day
Dinner:

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First plate = Spanish style peas
Second plate = pasta with pepper and tomato sauce and a hunk of Gouda for protein (ham croquettes, too)
Afters = ice-cream

Dear Fellow Peregrinos

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It’s been lovely sharing this old church with you. We have marveled together at how the modern construction has been inserted into the shell without losing any of the character. We have loved being able to see the metre-thick walls, the columns and arches soaring up above our beds which are three flights of stairs up from the ground floor – looking over the edge of the balcony made some of you giddy!
Thank you to the Peregrina, who suggested we steal a ladder from one of the other eight-person cubicles. It’s not that I didn’t understand you, it’s not that it was easy to climb up to the top bunk that was as high as my ear….it’s just that I thought maybe there was someone less agile than I in the other cubicles, someone who might not have a mother here to hoist them up. But thanks again for your concern.
To the lady whose blister procedure our kids watched at bedtime – thanks for the entertainment. The kids were awed at the amount of blood and gore – and it was all for real. A couple of them were concerned at how much pain you were experiencing. We hope your feet clear up soon.
Finally, I have a question. What was the hurry today? When the lights came on at 6 o’clock to wake us all up, my kids were the only ones still asleep. Quite a miracle really, considering some of you came into our cubicle talking at the tops of your voices just before 5. I realise you may have thought everyone was up – people had been jumping down from their bunks (do forgive them – it was a long drop and they landed heavily), rustling plastic bags, squishing their sleeping bags into stuff sacks, flashing headlamps around, hoiking loudly in the toilets and stomping round in their boots (yes, we all know the boots are meant to stay downstairs) – all this since the first musical alarm went off at 4am. It just made me wonder, why the rush?
Buen camino!

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3 June: Calzaldilla to Sahagun

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Absolute flatness was replaced by small hillocks.

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Dead straight was replaced with gently curving paths. And just like the way took twists and turns, so did my mind. I could not find a straight track anywhere!
Thoughts of pilgrimage as a metaphor for life were interrupted by swarms of bugs that took all our concentration to fight.

20140603-150122-54082239.jpg Fascination at the straw/stick/mud houses took the mind wandering to the three little pigs.

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Bushes, glorious in golden splendor, inflicted hay fever symptoms.
An ancient man wielded a scythe in his field. Another man leading a pitch black donkey wearing a cat skin over its nose like a hat stopped us for a full five minute conversation of which I understood nothing. I wondered if I was seeing things, but the kids were adamant they also saw the four pussy legs dangling.

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Deep furrows grabbed Levi’s attention. Multi-coloured fields looked like a patchwork quilt – no longer do we see mostly various shades of green as the backdrop to the reds, blues, purples, yellows and white of the wildflowers, but also browns and yellows.
Ella-Rose arrested any possibility for deep thought when she said, “Is there such a thing as a sardine airport? I was just walking along talking to myself and I found I was saying sardine airport over and over.” Seems like she was having as much brain trouble as I was!

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Then we’d have sworn we were in Hobbiton, but evidently it was actually a little pueblo by the name of Moratinos. Other pilgrims seemed to fly on through, but we were captivated by this wee village.

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Destination: Sahagun
Distance:: 24km
Cumulative Distance: 686km
314km to go to 1,000km
Weather: still 24 degrees when we came out after dinner at 8pm
Dinner: salad followed by mixture of chickpeas, lentils, eggs, peppers, garlic, and MORE veges……shared with Samuel from France who bought the wine and dessert biscuits, Jean-Marc (also from France – of course!) and Laszlo, a gentleman from Hungary, who recognised us from when we walked two years ago!

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All prepared in the most amazing kitchen I’ve ever worked in…..see the window?

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Here it is from the outside, the one above the door:

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And just for you Robbie, a picture of the sausage we used….in memory of all the chorizo taken from you at Auckland Airport.

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Sorry

2 June: Villalcazar de la Sigar to Calzaldilla de la Cueza

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From morning to mid-afternoon, it was just so flat!
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And straight.

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Looking back. Flat and straight.
You’d think it would make for easy walking, but it doesn’t. Your legs are ever moving but you don’t seem to be making any progress. One of the kids commented, “This is so discouraging.” I could understand – it was a mental walk rather than a physical one. Although the distance would turn out to be “not inconsiderable”. I might just mention that the distances given on various online maps seem to be very optimistic, assuming you walk in a dead straight line – our GPS almost always tells us we have walked an extra 10% or so. Admittedly today we wandered a wee bit in the only town we passed through (“Hay supermercado? Donde esta el Dia” I asked a man carrying a bag from the Dia supermarket. The lady he was talking to decided to personally take us there. Only we ended up at a panaderia. We wanted bread, but we wanted more than just bread, and certainly no cream buns. After a quick explanation she seemed to tell me off for saying I wanted bread, but then insisted on taking us to the supermarket. Not the Dia, but Lupa will do! We thanked her profusely for going out of her way) Even taking into account that detour, I wouldn’t have expected a 22km-by-the-map walk turn out to be 26km. In my books, 26 has just edged into the category of “long day” for us and we were supposed to be doing a short day. However, when you are standing on a dead flat straight road with nothing in sight, what can you do except walk on?
Of course, if you’re eight years old you have other options and today when our legs told us we had already covered the expected 22km, Ella-Rose could have fussed. And maybe she did a tiny wee bit – but then she remembered she could ask to have a break and she chose well. Later she asked if it had been an aniseedy day.
Let me explain. Daddy gave the kids a wee packet of tiny aniseed balls the day he left. They walked well and I handed out a ball to everyone, saying, “Daddy will be proud of you.” This morphed into a silly phrase and now we measure each day and determine whether it has been an aniseedy-daddy-proudy day or not. Ella-Rose correctly judged today as “not really but I want one” and I explained that Daddy would indeed be proud of her decision to do the right thing and walk on with a good attitude, even after a wee slip into Attitude.
20+km automatically calls for an icecream, so that was always on the books for today. Little did we know when we set out, that we would end up with the most delicious artisan icecream, bought for us by a very kind lady we have been meeting on and off.

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Thanks.

Destination: Calzaldilla de la Cueza
Distance: 26km
Cumulative Distance: 660km
340km to go to 1,000
Weather: 22 degrees
Dinner: will be something at the bar

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A new daddy!!!

1 June: San Nicolas to Villacazar de Sirga

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The meseta messes with your mind.
Micaiah said today that he had thought it was one big plain – that one we saw from the top of the hill yesterday. But it turns out it’s lots of big plains on differing levels, some of them down in “bowls of valley”. Based on the report from Mr Blue T-shirt last time we walked that it “goes on and on and it’s 40 degrees in the shade, only there is no shade”, Micki also expected it to be treeless. But today there were both varying levels of plain and fairly frequent trees.
The meseta messes with your mind in other ways too. One minute you’re walking along marvelling at the stork parading in a field of wheat, noticing the great clumps of soil in the newly ploughed field, admiring the flowers…..five kilometres later you’re absorbed in a feeling of complete mundaneness and realise you have not even looked up from the white gravelly path for….forever!
I tell you, the meseta really does things to you!

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We had got off to a great start – the breakfast would have been romantic had it not been so freezing. In fact the first question asked a few times this morning as we bumped into acquaintances was, “Did you freeze last night?” We didn’t, because we were wearing thermals, merino tops, socks and gloves…and were cocooned inside silk sleeping bag liners, a sleeping bag and under a very heavy scratchy brown monastic blanket. Exposed noses were cold, and getting up was hard! But get up we had to – even before the sun. In fact, as we ate breakfast, one of the hospitaleros came in and declared, “The sun is now here!” – and indeed, it had just peeked over the hill. Not long after, we were off.

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The path was flat. And straight. Time and miles flew by as Doctor Colin’s wife, Mrs Pink Skirt (an English couple who live in Boston) introduced a murder mystery for us to solve:
“The music stopped. The lady died.”
The boys replied with their own gruesome scenario.
The path took a turn alongside a canal. A lesson in reasoning followed the observation “they obviously do their crayfish traps here on Sundays”.
One thing we do know about Sundays for sure is that shops close early and so we decided to pick up food to carry, not being certain where we would end the day. The supermercado didn’t open at all and so we were limited to the panaderia. With bread, cheese, salami and soup on the menu for dinner, we indulged in a sweet treat for lunch (I told you the meseta messes with your mind – and the sweetness was too much for all of us!)

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We had two possible destinations for the day. One was Poblacion de Campos, a modest 19km. A further 6.4km on was Villamentero de Campos. We had agreed to make the decision about where to stop based on how we were feeling at the time. When we reached the first village, we had no intention of stopping, and it was noticed that Villalcazar de Sirga would be only another six and it would mean making 30km. Now I do not blame the meseta for inciting silbling rivalry about distances covered, but it was there, even if unspoken, and if the girls were ever going to “catch up” to the boys, this would be the place to do it! However, I suspected the reality of 30km might become more apparent, the closer we got to it, so I suggested leaving the final decision until we reached the last place we could stop before committing ourselves to the long day.

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The path continued. Flat. Straight.
We got to the Deciding Point and everyone was walking strongly. BUT….there was a really comfortable-looking albergue, there was a tree with a swing, there was grass, and there were some of our friends including Theo, the donkey who has walked from France and who we met for the first time last night at San Nicolas.

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Everyone faltered and I inwardly rejoiced. Then the meseta-magic took over and the Little Legs said, “I want to go on.” Everyone agreed. Then changed their minds and they spent a good five minutes wavering. The brisk wind that made an otherwise idyllic setting less than pleasant helped with the final call and we moved on.
Unfortunately the mind-changing accompanied us with dragging heels. I wondered about turning back, but the meseta had removed my powers of reasoning and when you get to the point that it is further to go back than to go on, there is definitely no turning back.
And so for perhaps 3km the Decision Maker shouted her thoughts to the wind and dragged a hiking pole defiantly through the stones.
It was such a disappointing end to what had been a wonderful day of walking. Next time, I will make the call that we stop while we’re ahead. I will not entertain crazy ideas from children, ideas that I would not have thought up on my own. And I will be wary of the meseta madness.

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Destination: Villacazar de Sirga
Distance: 31.5km
Cumulative Distance: 634km
366km to go
Weather: 19 degrees, gentle wind blowing from behind over right shoulder
Dinner: fake mushroom soup, fake cheese slices, real jamon, real crusty bread and a bar of chocolate