We actually navigated our way across northwestern Spain by scallop shells and yellow arrows placed hither and yon by a team of international Camino freaks that volunteer throughout the year. Walking along wondering about your direction and if lost is a possibility and they appear, a rock or ancient stone marker or even a tree trunk on the far side of the road with a yellow arrow painted on it, saved. We spent a good deal of time looking for markers by sunlight or headlamp as we headed out before dawn most mornings beating the heat, especially amazing walking under the super moon. The Camino always provides. Castles and monastic ruins appear around many a turn in the trail, each village boasting churches beyond plentiful with astounding amounts of riches displayed on enormous alter pieces painted with gold and embellished with carvings, jewels and gem stones, statues and paintings, depicting various scenes of religious deities over the millennium, precious even in decay. Initially it caused uneasy ghoulish visions of poor slaves and serfs dying after short horrible lives to provide the labor making it possible to build these enormous houses of worship, but chains of history along the Way provided a deeper understanding into the culture surrounding the anvils of circumstances in the villages. We do it different here is my short story although insight into relationships between many forms of religion and people over centuries along the Camino de Santiago is fascinating.
A special 7 day segment of the Camino described as the Meseta, a high plain that we climb several thousand feet to get to, but once ascended unfolds into unrelenting flat wide, gravel paths, brutal underfoot going on for miles with little to no shade or villages, only endless fields of dry barley, disorienting us to where we would light next. Until now we had been climbing mountains and traversing valleys, lush and green filled with water and flowers and many a village to rest in taking off shoes and back pack to enjoy chocolate and diet coke before moving on again. These brutally long incendiary stretches actually are referred to as the “soulless senda” in map books. One of the flat paths unexpectedly, gloriously escorted a wide canal that was used a thousand years ago to move grain and agricultural products throughout the region with old locks beautifully still in place. Churches and villages on the Camino are totally centered on the pilgrimage and most have special pilgrim masses daily, crescendoed by pilgrims called front and center for personal hands on blessings from the priest. We gratefully received any and all help we could get.
Food is mostly the same along the Camino with a few standout dishes, but most of the time it is a pilgrims menu that someone at sometime decided was a splendid idea and on an the albergue (hostals) circuit once sold on a commercial idea, hospitalieries all seem to follow as it a financially profit driven venture by locals deriving their annual income from pilgrims. Typical menu is 3 courses for 8 to 10 euro. Choices are relentlessly similar and consist of what someone somewhere decided all the international pilgrims would want. Spaghetti from Italy, creamy thick mayo weird salad Russe from Russia, way over cooked mash of peas and other canned products from UK, French fries from France!, and the one we ate every day, salad mixta with lettuce, canned tuna, white asparagus and tomatoes, we think from US. Sometimes olives or hard boiled eggs, possibly carrots, but the protein was valuably high. Second courses are just as bizarre with even vegetarian dishes containing some sort of pork product. We found luscious fruits and nuts from the Mercado with pleasant shop keepers.
One particularly difficult walk, ridiculously longer than we had anticipated, stretched the performance of my 3 liters of water, reduced to a frightening gurgle sound, with about an hour of blazing sun ahead to the next village. I had been keeping my head from insanity of boredom by looking for the perfect heart cloud in a sky abundantly fluffy bellowing with pure white clouds, to snap a picture of and send to my friend Jackie Hopkins as I had been thinking about her Kate all day and she loved heart clouds. Growing more agitated and parched by the second as I had no more water, which I willingly admit is a security blanket on a good day for me, and that sky would not perform for me, when out of nowhere, on our walking trail, this dude in a minivan with loud music and a huge smile rolls up and hands us all a bottles of ice cold water. Those bottles were painted with big pink hearts. Got it after all, just her way and not mine. Goose bumps covered me into the village as I felt her looking over us pilgrims trudging to our next destination. We spent a wonderful night in his albergue amidst rabbits and chickens, well fed and thoroughly quenched.
Camino De Santiago Pilgrims Salad Mixta
1 pound mixed market greens on a large beautiful platter. Add a couple quartered hard boiled eggs. Toss on some grated carrots and good handful Greek olives. Slice on generous cucumbers and lots of halved cherry tomatoes. Flake on a can of tuna. Drizzle with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Crack sea salt on and share with, bread, loved ones and icy cold Albarino!