Fuenterroble de Salvatierra to San Pedro de Rozados
Tuesday September Twenty-Nine, 2020
The distance between Fuenterroble de Salvatierra and San Pedro de Rozados threw up so many emotional highs for me as I walked. But for good measure it also added a number of distinctive lows because, well, because it wouldn’t be a day on the Via de la Plata without a bit of emotional turmoil to mix you up a little.
I awoke earlier than usual, busting for a wee as I was. I lay in my sleeping sack, fully clothed against the cold, and tried to pretend away the discomfort of my full bladder. My little stone cabin was separate from the main building of the albergue, and so to use the bathroom meant not only leaving my bed but leaving the hut and traipsing through the chilly morning air. My phone told me it was only four degrees outside the cabin’s walls, but my bladder told me I was going to hurt myself if I didn’t hurry the hell up and give it some relief. So I scurried quickly from the bed and across the path towards the main building, happy to have finally plucked up the courage to brave the cold.
With that not so small task out of the way I returned to the cabin and climbed back into my sleeping sack. But while the air within the cabin was considerably warmer than the air outside it could hardly be described as a comfortable temperature. And so I made the call to get out of bed once and for all and begin the day, if only for the simple fact that by moving I might warm myself up a little.
I was already fully clothed, so I saved time in that respect, and I was soon out on the streets of Fuenterroble de Salvatierra, and then just as quickly beyond the village and walking alongside an open road in the dark. The world was so incredibly silent, and so unbelievably dark, that I felt a strange mood come over me. It was as if the lack of aural and visual stimulation had somehow censored a part of my brain and I walked through the nothingness in a wonderful state of calm. Perhaps in another context it could be called Zen. But whatever it was it was a perfect state of mind to begin the day with.
Along the Camino I was always happy to begin the day in the dark, for a number of reasons. Initially the motivator was to put in as many kilometres as possible before the sun came up and the world warmed up accordingly. Back in Andalusia that made perfect sense when the days’ temperatures would easily climb up into the mid-thirties. But nearly three weeks on, with autumn approaching and a cooler northern climate prevailing, that wasn’t a consideration any longer. Instead, I continued to begin most days early because I enjoyed the way the day felt broken up when there was an hour or so of it spent in the dark. It also meant that the day felt better joined, in that I had experienced such a larger breadth of it. Daybreak. Morning. Noon. Sundown. Evening… In the real, non-Camino world, I certainly wasn’t privy to anywhere near as many sunrises as I had seen while walking the Via.
And that brings me to the most satisfying reason for beginning the day in the dark. And that is because you get to enjoy watching the daylight eventually creep in and saturate everything. Those initial hours of sunlight across a Spanish landscape are the stuff of fantasy art, or CGI backdrops in blockbuster science fiction films. The unreal quality of those golden, glowing rays grabs you every time and you can’t help but appreciate just how lucky you are to have had that moment in time added to your life.
But I digress.
By 10am the sun was still only a fraction of the way through its journey across the sky, but by then I had been walking for a fair few hours. And in that time I had journeyed across more flat farmland and alongside a long section of ancient Roman road that had been excavated for modernity to lay its eyes upon. But eventually the Via changed gear, as it is wont to do, and threw in a rather sizable ascent for me to face. Up, and up and up I climbed, making my way slowly but surely to the highest point of the Via de la Plata.
Pico de la Dueña was 1,145 metres above sea level, and it provided an epic location to stop and absorb the world around me from such a great height. I found myself sitting on top of a rocky outcrop that looked out over a magical landscape in all directions. Sunbeams pierced through the clouds to the north of me and scattered a golden light over the hills and fields below, while hawks glided above me in gentle spirals. Beside me, mounted into the stony ridge, was an enormous cross, looming over me as I took in the majesty of my surroundings. I untied my shoes and set my feet free into the still chilly morning air and sat for a long while to take it all in. I wrote in my journal, snacked on fruit and nuts and messaged my family back in New Zealand. I didn’t want to leave such a marvellous spot and could have gladly stayed there for the better part of the day with a good book, a picnic and perhaps some conversational company also. Instead, my only companions were the hawks that stayed airborne above me. One was smaller than the other two, and so I imagined a parent and child dynamic happening high above me in the sky – a baby Hawk spending quality time with its mother and father. And to save you a Google search a baby hawk is called an Eyas. So now you know.
As I sat I contemplated the fact that by the time I reached San Pedro de Rozados later that afternoon I would have journeyed five hundred kilometres of my one thousand kilometre adventure. How was that for a significant milestone? It put me in two minds however and while half of me wanted to celebrate the achievement of reaching the halfway point of the Via the other half of me wanted to commiserate with the idea that I only had another five hundred kilometres to travel. The halfway point signalled that a completion was imminent, and I really didn’t want my Camino to end.
I continued sitting with my thoughts, and by default I was putting off the inevitable descent towards San Pedro de Rozados, as well as the inevitable halfway point. I closed my eyes and meditated for a while, distracted only by the gentle buzzing of honeybees and the occasional chime of a cow bell off in the distance.
Eventually I put my socks and shoes back on, returned my pack to my back and said farewell to Pico de la Dueña. It was a solemn goodbye, which perhaps set my head up for its disagreeable attitude towards the rest of the day. My descent started well, passing a chain of magnificently tall wind turbines as I did so. It was a steep and slightly menacing path down from the peak, but it was also notably short and sweet, owing to the manic pace that the angle of the path forced you to take. It was more of a downwards scramble than a composed descent. And once it had been completed the coarse gravel path gave way to an old tarmac road that didn’t seem to have much purpose anymore. Barely half a dozen cars past me on it as I continued my journey alongside its shoulder.
The road should have been a joy to amble along, except that it was anything but. It taunted me as I walked and played an ongoing trick whereby it disappeared along the horizon in a mostly straight line, ending at a small rise in the distance. But no sooner had I made my way to the crest of the rise then the road would repeat its course in a mostly straight line off towards the horizon again. This went on for what felt like an absolute age, and I came to wholeheartedly believe that it was a level of Dante’s Hell that he had forgotten to mention.
Eventually the Via veered off from the road and offered a small level of respite from the monotony of the road, but not the heat of the now midday sun. It offered up a promise that San Pedro de Rozados was close by (which it was), but it too continued to amble on through the farmland for much longer than I would have cared for.
When I finally did arrive at the albergue the village had long since shuttered up for its siesta. The hostess greeted me in that very matter-of-fact Spanish way and was halfway through my check-in when she was interrupted by a phone call. She explained to me that she now had to leave to pick up two peregrinos who were a twenty minute drive away somewhere along the Via. I didn’t realise that pick-ups were an option, and the purist in me turned my nose up a little at the idea, but each to their own. The addition of a four-wheeled lift may have been needed for any number of reasons, so I could not judge. (It turned out to be the Spanish couple who were shadowing me that required the pick-up, but I never found out why they’d chosen to be picked up).
I made my way to my room and showered before falling fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. It was either the morning’s climb that had taken it out of me or perhaps I hadn’t slept as well as I’d imagined in the stone cabin the previous night. When I awoke there was a lot of hustle and bustle from beyond my room and so I wandered out to find the guest house’s restaurant full of local workers, as well as the Spanish couple. I went to the counter to enquire about the lunch menu and was informed that lunch had finished fifteen minutes earlier. The matter-of-fact tone that this was stated with informed me quite firmly that there would be no budging from this fact. No allowances would be made for me. I enquired as to when the dinner menu would begin, and the Hostess informed me that I could eat again from 7:30pm. Suffice to say 7.30pm was some hours away.
I returned to my room a little despondent, and my hunger had certainly tilted towards the sensation of hanger instead. I knew that my mood was out of place for my rather significant halfway milestone and so took myself out onto the streets of the village instead to find the local store. By chance it was open, and so I filled my bag with lots of sugary treats that I took back to my room to enjoy – knowing full well that my belly would regret it later in the day and that I’d feel ill as a result. But I snacked away on sweets nonetheless and excitedly anticipated my arrival in Salamanca the following day, where I might eat whatever and whenever I fancied.
When 7.30pm finally did roll around my stomach was well and truly ready for it. I had made an attempt to fill it a little with a couple of nice cold beers prior to the dinner menu being available. The beers were as much substitutes for real nutrition as they were celebratory gestures to acknowledge the halfway point of my Camino. I raised a glass to my achievement, and felt a small tingle of pride come to the fore. It certainly wasn’t every year of your life that you could put your day-to-day behind you, farewell friends and lovers, pack your possessions up into a backpack and traipse 1,000km through the heart of Spain. Nor was it every year that a global pandemic could take away so much from you, and yet offer up so much more opportunity in return.
I ordered red wine with my meal, thinking that I might mix up my celebratory drinks a little. The hostess brought a glass to my table and then proceeded to leave the opened bottle of red beside it before dashing back off to the kitchen. I waited for her to return to pour the glass and retrieve the bottle, but she never did. So I tentatively poured myself what I imagined was an appropriate volume of wine to marry with the fixed-price of the meal itself, wine being included. My initial glass was finished in no time, and so I threw caution to the wind and poured myself another, accepting that I could afford to pay for an additional glass of wine with my meal. This went on until the better part of the bottle had been finished and my head was swimming in slow motion circles of thoughts both big and small. But when it came time to pay the bill there was no additional charge for my added wine consumption – the bottle, and not a glass, had been part of the fixed-price deal from the very start.
I marvelled at the apparent low cost-of-goods for such a generous meal and wandered back to my room feeling much more satisfied than I had prior to the long overdue meal. Five hundred kilometres was certainly a feat, and I climbed into bed that night with a healthy recognition of what it was I’d so far achieved. There was an eagerness to know what lay ahead of me along the next five hundred kilometres also, but I knew that time would tell and that I shouldn’t be too eager to see my Camino completed. So I focussed on Salamanca instead, my next stop the following afternoon, where I would pause for a couple of days and rest my body while I explored the ancient university city. I fell asleep feeling proud and jubilant, but still just a little bit morose that somewhere in the distant future I would have to say goodbye to my Camino life and return to one with much more convention built into it.