Grimaldo to Carcabosa
Friday September Twenty-Five, 2020
Grimaldo provided a chilly start for me as I said goodbye to the guest house and headed off on my day’s walk. I had pulled my windbreaker out from the bottom of my backpack to layer up with. It was its first outing on my journey so far, but I suspected that I would be seeing more of it in the days and weeks ahead. Such was the ever so slightly autumnal feel that now made itself felt in the air around me.
As well as the distinct change in the morning temperature that morning, there was also a definite sense that the landscape was shifting up a gear around me. It seemed to be transitioning into something more Northern. Gone were the dusty flat plains I had come to acquaint with Extremadura. Plains that were almost maddening in their beige simplicity. Gone was the endless and featureless expanse of dust and despair. And in its place were well watered, lush green fields that peaked and troughed and created a landscape that kept taking my mind back to New Zealand, such was its similarity to the dairy farms I was so familiar with from back home. The call-back to New Zealand was helped along by the presence of a range of mountains off in the distance. Mountains that I would no doubt need to climb over in the next few days.
After nearly two weeks of walking I felt my approach to the day shift after leaving Grimaldo. Perhaps it had taken me those two weeks to settle into a new mindset, or perhaps I had been influenced by the recent company of Joy and Gerald who were seasoned pilgrims and as such were full of well earnt Camino wisdom. Whatever the reason, on Day Thirteen I stopped caring for how many kilometres I was walking each hour. And I didn’t bother with the math inside of my head that would calculate what time of day I’d subsequently arrive at my destination. I worried less about how early I began the day, and I also moved away from breaking my day up into hourly rest stops with rigorous stretches thrown in for good measure. The other habit/ritual/routine I broke with after leaving Grimaldo was…
It’s almost embarrassing to admit it in case I’m writing myself into the character of some sort of anally retentive control freak. But I’ve started my admission now, so I’ll continue. Until Grimaldo I was in the habit of taking three sips of water from my water bladder every fifteen minutes as I walked. And I would do that throughout the day until the bladder was empty, and then I would move on to the water in my tankard. The ritual had begun earnestly enough as a means of making sure I stayed adequately hydrated throughout the day. And fair enough too. When I’d left Seville two weeks beforehand each day had thrown me under the scorching sun with no shade to speak of. But looking at such a routine critically in my more relaxed state (and in a much milder climate) I realised I could now let it go and simply drink my water as and when I found it necessary, without the built-in hourly quotas.
It was nice to finally just let the journey control me, rather than trying to break down the journey into nice tidy parts. And so as I walked that day, the moments when I did stop for a break were enjoyed so much more because I could bring myself to appreciate them more fully. They weren’t prescribed breaks, or regulated, or even necessary on plenty of occasions. They were simply because I wanted to air my feet, or to take in a view, or chat for a bit with a herd of cattle.
By noon the landscape around me had changed once again, and was replete with even lusher greens, and a great deal of water all about me. Now the fields really could be mistaken for any tract of Otago farmland back in the South Island of New Zealand. It was so refreshing to see so many new shades of green in the mix, and water, and lush farmland that seemed fertile and prodigious.
The resemblance to home wasn’t the only surprise the day offered up to me however and I was delighted by the appearance of Galisteo in the distance as I climbed to the crest of a hill that had been obscuring its presence. The wonderful revelation of a walled town sitting on the horizon stopped me in my tracks and caused my jaw to momentarily drop. I hadn’t expected such a sight, and so delight flooded through me in great big healthy doses. Adding to the fairy-tale setting was a dead straight path cutting through the farmland and leading directly to the wall itself. What a sight. It really was so, so magnificent, and from such a distance I could almost believe that I’d stepped back into another century long before my own and was privy to the same view as a pilgrim may have been in the 18th, 17th and even 16th centuries.
I moved across the fields at pace, eager as I was to explore Galisteo from within its historic walls that dated back to the 13th century. I sat myself down at the first café I saw, just at the edge of the village under the wall, and treated myself to orange juice, and toast with cheese and wonderfully sweet tomato. It was a perfect treat to refuel me, but I didn’t linger long as I wanted to be inside of the walls to explore the inner layout of the town itself. It proved to be a labyrinthine complex of narrow lanes and dead-end alleys that quickly disoriented me and left me fumbling about looking at the maps on my phone to figure out where on earth I was. Not that my phone was much use to me within the walls as I had no phone reception, being closed in between the stone buildings as I was.
After getting myself pleasantly lost within I decided that it was time to take myself without and eventually emerged back outside under the pebbled wall. As I walked away from Galisteo and towards the stone bridge that led me from the town I kept having the compulsion to stop, turn and revisit the almost fantastical sight of Galisteo. It really was such an unexpected delight. A part of me wanted to shift my plans and stay in the town for the night, rather than in Carcabosa where I intended to stop. My fellow peregrino Joy was having a shorter day and staying in Galisteo herself, so why shouldn’t I? But the restless, destination-focussed version of me took charge and turned me around again to continue on to Carcabosa.
Beyond Galisteo the final distance of the day was walked entirely alongside the shoulder of a quiet country road, which suited my still weary feet so late in the day. The beauty of tarmac is that it allows for a nice even footfall, without the awkward dance over uneven chunks of gravel or stone. The only setback of it sometimes though can be the plentiful heat that radiates from it at the end of the day. But that certainly wasn’t the case as I pushed through on the final stretch that afternoon. The temperature only peaked at twenty-two degrees, and although the sky remained blue all day there wasn’t the overbearing heat that other days had subjected me to.
Beyond Galisteo that was another very pronounced shift in the landscape and even more shades of green began to appear around me. The grass in the fields grew long and lush, and now I was taken back to the lustrous farmland of my childhood in Taranaki, where the volcanic rich soil guaranteed a thriving dairy industry. Adding to the familiarity was the fact that chomping away at the green grass were bountiful numbers of beautiful ochre coloured cows. The tones of home were significantly familiar enough to almost make me forget I was in Spain anymore. Only the direction of the infrequently passing traffic reminded me of where I actually was. The cows were all very curious about my approach, and stared at me as I passed while chewing their cud. They weren’t very happy about me getting too close however, and they preferred to trot off and away from me whenever I approached.
Carcabosa was a sleepy wee town, although larger than Grimaldo, by far. The local albergue was easy enough to find, but that is where its good qualities ended. The host was gruff and bolshy as he showed me around his shabby, dirty and generally scruffy establishment. It was in stark contrast to the niceties that Caesar had provided the night before in his own establishment in Grimaldo. But such is Camino life, where you’re never quite too sure what will be offered up to you from one day to the next. I had my credential stamped and went to hand my host his money, but he waved me off and implied that I should pay him later. This was the first kind gesture that he’d offered, and so I accepted it.
I headed for the bathroom and took a much needed shower while washing out my clothing and loosening off the days grime. I dressed and headed out to the veranda to hang my wet clothing and was met by a new peregrino who was busying himself at his laptop. This was Daan, a friend of Joy’s who she had mentioned a number of times in our conversations. Dan was as instantly likable as Joy had assured me he would be and we launched into a long and detailed conversation with one another as if we’d been acquainted for years. The Spanish couple from Caceres and Embalse de Alcántara appeared from their afternoon siesta and joined in the conversation also – Daan speaking fluent Spanish as he does. Again, it was wonderful to feel connected with other humans after a long day of solitary walking, as opposed to mooching about in deserted hostels with just myself for company.
I took my siesta and by the time I awoke Gerald had arrived at the albergue also, making it a hive of activity once more. Being Friday I felt a little bit celebratory, which was no doubt nurtured by the fact that I had company once more to join me for a beer and then dinner. Daan, Gerald and I ventured out to one of the local bars and acquainted over ice cold beer while sharing tales of our exploits along the way on the Via. We explored the small town and discovered a number of wonderful collage murals plastered about on walls around the streets. Laurel and Hardy were there, as well as Charlie Chaplin and many other icons from the silver screen. It was a great addition to an otherwise nondescript town, and I got quite trigger-happy with my camera as such.
The evening air grew chilly quickly, and so we moved on to one of the local restaurants for the Menu del dia. Fluorescent strip lighting. Paper tablecloths. A television mounted on the wall in every corner. Loud 90’s pop classics making up 90% of the aural ambience. Ensalada Russo and Croquettas of an indistinguishable age sitting on the counter… You’ve eaten in such an establishment a hundred times before if you’ve ever visited Spain. It’s the staple of all dining experiences. A bottle of red wine accompanied the meal, and then another, at which point I felt the day beginning to catch up with me and decided to call it a night. My motivation for an early night came also from the fact that the following day was going to be a big one – a 40km trek in total, with a stop off at the Via’s symbolic heart, Cáparra. It was a day that I had been looking forward to during all of my training for the Via. I bid my farewells to Daan and Gerald and headed back to the grimy albergue for sleep.
I prepared myself for bed while listening out for the host. I hadn’t seen him since he’d checked me in, and so decided to leave the night’s tariff that I still owed him beside the bed, for him to find in the morning. I put myself between the sheets reluctantly and turned out the light to turn in for the day. I’d barely been horizontal for thirty seconds when the door burst open without any announcement and the host came barging through into the room. He rattled off a series of fast and furious exclamations in Spanish that I couldn’t grasp, but that certainly pertained to the money he imagined I was trying to swindle from him. I reached for the tidy pile of notes and coins that I’d left beside the bed for him and placed the full amount into his hands as he loomed over the bed. He turned and left without any further acknowledgement.
I lay back between the grubby sheets and closed my eyes again, too exhausted to take offence and too content with an otherwise marvellous day to take any particular chagrin with such behaviour. I was certain that not all hosts would be as exceptional as Caesar had been the night before, and so many of my other hosts prior to him. But I was still surprised at how base some of the accommodation and hospitality could be, for a very similar price. I let it pass in an instant and reflected on the many joys the day had brought me instead. And in particular the incredible vision of Galisteo from across the landscape, as if I had been staring back through time itself. It is a simple memory that still brings a smile to my face.