El Cubo de la Tierra del Vino to Zamora
Sunday October Four, 2020
It was quietly thrilling to wake up once more in an occupied albergue and begin the day with a breakfast shared with other pilgrims. Something about engaging in conversation over food before the day is even begun sets a happy tone that remains with you for the rest of the day – no matter how arduous that day turns out to be. The Spanish couple were already at the breakfast table, as was Daan and an Italian pilgrim I’d met the night prior. We ate and chatted, and uniformly commiserated with one another that the day’s weather didn’t look particularly promising.
It was only drizzling lightly when I first left the albergue, and so I put my poncho on for the first time since buying it all the way back in Merida. And gosh am I’m glad that I did. Within seconds of departing the albergue the drizzle had settled into a light rain, and then that rain had evolved a little further into something considerably more energetic, until at some point the world around me seemed to be more water than air. It didn’t help that each of us was walking into a headwind, and an evil one at that, in that it was blowing the driving rain directly at us.
Within an hour of the albergue the path turned away from the trees that had tentatively provided some shelter alongside it and led me out onto a wide flat plain that held no shelter whatsoever. The path made its way in a straight line towards the north, leading directly into the cold northerly wind. And being pushed in my direction was one of the blackest skies I’ve ever seen, which brought with it a wall of water that couldn’t be ignored. It was a remarkable sight. And if it weren’t for the fact that my phone and camera would have drowned in an instant under such a volume of water I would have taken ample photos of the scene. But alas, I valued both items far too much to take that risk and soldiered on instead without the satisfaction of having such an epic view to post to social media…
(I do need to digress just briefly to note that before I found myself out on the open plain I encountered a rather strange beastie that ran across my path shortly after I’d left the village. It made its way from one set of trees to another directly in front of me, but it moved so fast that I couldn’t for the life of me make it out. It didn’t help that my eyes were squinted almost shut against the wind and the rain. What I did see however was four legged and grey, and had a long snout as well as a decidedly long and fluffy tail. And while it would be too easy to say that a dog had just crossed my path my brain instead asked, “What the **** was that?” I encountered dogs every day in London, and on most days of the Camino also. I’ve been a dog owner in the past, and many of my friends own them still. So I guess what I’m trying to convince you of is that I know what a dog looks like and how a dog moves, but this creature wasn’t ticking any of those boxes for me. I filed the encounter under ‘I should Google that later’, which I did, but I’m still none the wiser what it was that I encountered that morning.)
My new poncho worked a treat and kept the better part of me dry against the driving rain. Its waterproof qualities meant however that all the moisture it came into contact with rolled directly from its surface and gravitated towards my shoes in great constant steams. My shoes were never going to remain dry in such conditions, but the additional water pouring down on to them meant that they squished, and they squelched more than usual as I made my way across the muddy track. The size of the poncho caused a small amount of grief also in that it was so large it caught the wind and whipped violently around my body. The constant rattle and vibration of the twitching fabric was deafening and all I could do to stay sane throughout the cacophony was tell myself that by the end of the day I’d be in Zamora, and warm and dry, and well fed to boot.
Eventually, upon the horizon and behind the band of black cloud, there was the slightest promise of blue sky. It really was the tiniest slither, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see such a tiny slither of blue in all of my life. It grew and it grew as the northerly wind pushed the last of the rain clouds towards me and then finally behind me, revealing the much anticipated sunshine that had been promising itself for such a long time. The sun made all the difference to my mood, which I’d only realised at a late stage in the morning had been a little on the flat side, owing to the volume of alcohol I’d drunk the night before. The wind and the rain had certainly sobered me up, but the freshly arrived sunshine brought with it a little wreath of joy that I held onto for the rest of the day.
My poncho was still notably damp, despite the cessation of the rain, and so I kept it on even though the sun was now shining, to help it dry quicker. The wind continued to whip at me throughout the day though, and by default it pulled and tugged at the poncho and made harder work of the walk. The walk itself was all through farmland, with a gently undulating landscape that twisted and turned and never quite let you know where it might amble towards next. Wherever it did lead though was exposed to the constant wind, and by the time the afternoon had rolled around it ended up becoming quite maddening.
For that reason I was keen to push right on through to Zamora and end the day as promptly as I could. I forewent any breaks, as I’d done the day before, for the same reason that the lack of any shelter made for an uncomfortable rest. And so I soldiered on, but it didn’t help that I missed a marker several kilometres outside of Zamora and added another couple of unnecessary kilometres to the day. I growled at myself for making such a rookie mistake nearly three weeks into my journey. But I couldn’t afford to beat myself up too much, even though my amended route took me high onto a ridge and exposed me even more so to the wind. And when I say that the wind was deafening I really do mean it. My ears were still ringing much later that night when I finally put myself to bed.
Eventually Zamora came into sight and my pace quickened. I was keen to feel warm once more, but more than that I needed to feel dry for the first time all day. I certainly warmed up during the small but steep ascent into the heart of the city and then navigated my way eagerly to my Guest House. I checked in with a wonderfully pleasant hostess who seemed happy to chat away in fluent English with me. I appreciated the banter, but what I knew I would appreciate more was a nice hot shower. So as soon as our formalities were over I shut the door and stepped under a steaming stream of water in the shower, still clothed, and I stayed there for a considerable amount of time. The heat of the water was a wonderful tonic, and I’d have gladly stayed there for much of the afternoon if I didn’t already have another objective to achieve that day. And sure enough, that objective involved food.
Over a meal in Salamanca a few days beforehand a fellow Peregrino, an Englishman by the name of Brian, had mentioned to me a reservation he’d made at a steak restaurant in Zamora. Or more specifically a Carne Restaurant. As he described the menu to me I’d begun to salivate a little, even though there was already food in my mouth and ample food in my belly at the time. I took a note of the restaurant’s name and told myself that I’d head there also, once I’d arrived in Zamora.
Asador Casa Mariano is one of those local gems that families will keep going back to for generations, and for good reason. It dealt in quality ingredients and great service, but without the faff of a fancy setting or the pretension of wildly embellished dishes. I was greeted by the maître d who looked like he’d stepped through time from the Franco era, but who greeted me warmly and asked me to wait one moment while he found me a table. A busy dining hall could be heard behind him, but it was upstairs that I was led by another waiter who sat me in the centre of the dining room at a large table that might have fitted another five diners easily. Surrounding me were half a dozen elderly couples, all sat at equally large tables that made the distance between each person seem comical. I was the centre of attention as I entered the room, and all eyes were upon me as the solo diner was shown to his place. There was an awkward silence in the room as I sat, but soon enough (once judgements had been made) the other diners all returned their gazes to the meal at hand.
And what meals they had. Each couple was at various stages of consumption of a lamb shoulder, the size of which beggared belief. I coveted their dish of choice and wondered what sort of capacity my belly was capable of, but as much of a glutton as I am there was no way I could do such a sizable portion of meat justice that afternoon. The waiter returned to my table and saw my eyes glistening at the comically sized portion of meat on offer. To which he was quick to point out that the lamb shoulder could only be served to tables of two or more, which seemed fair enough. But it also seemed to suggest a limited imagination in terms of what a solo diner might be able to achieve. On a very empty stomach I think I could have done some damage to the meal, with ample time up my sleeve that is. But I think too that I’d end up doing damage to my bowels also, which seemed much less desirable.
I settled instead for an entrée of anchovies, which seemed slightly out of place in a Carne restaurant, but they appealed to me nonetheless. The entrée entailed just six anchovies on the plate, for the rather princely sum of €12, but gosh were they worth it. Every single one of them was a revelation. And so with their salty goodness still fresh on my tongue I could easily reconcile the fact that a dish which had taken all of a minute to devour had cost the same as an entire night in an albergue. Next out came the biggest steak that I think I’ve ever been confronted with in my life. And yes, the word ‘confronted’ is apt for how I felt in the presence of this steak. It was at least an inch thick, fat and all, with none of the niceties of the butchering experiences I’m otherwise used to. You got everything at Asador Casa Mariano. You got the fat. You got the gristle. You got the bone. You got the whole damned lot of it. There were no pleasantries with your meat and certainly no pretence that it was anything other than a dead beast cooked a little on the outside but still bloody and practically sentient on the inside.
I finished my dining occasion with Rice Pudding, because it’s not a Spanish meal without either Rice Pudding or Flan to finish it off with. And my preference has always been for the Rice Pudding, as wholesome and consistently satisfying as it is. I tied the dishes together with a wonderfully crisp white wine and spent a small fortune on the combined meal, comparative to a typical pilgrim meal that is. But boy was I satisfied by the whole experience. My only regret was that I hadn’t had a dining buddy with whom I might have taken on the challenge of the lamb shoulder with. I made my thanks, bundled up against the cold and walked the short distance back to the Guest House where Daan and I were both staying. I undressed and collapsed into my bed with such an extended belly that a food coma consumed me within seconds.
When I awoke I re-joined Daan and Benedetta in the streets of Zamora to explore the city some more. It had livened up considerably since the afternoon, but after such a long day and such an extravagant lunch I couldn’t quite face food and beer in the way I might usually face it. Perhaps the great quantity of wine and beer I’d consumed the night before played a part in dissuading me from drinking that evening also. And so the three of us had a subdued evening instead and I had made my way back to the Guest House by 8pm, well and truly ready for more sleep as I was. But before I slept I did a small tally of my travels so far, and added up the kilometres that I’d subsequently walked. My total was 604.5km, which looked like a nice, well-formed number on the page. More than that though it was a number that reminded me that my extravagantly meaty lunch had been a well-earned one. And with that thought still fresh in my mind I slipped into the second of the day’s food comas.