Camarzana de Tera to Villar de Farfón
Thursday October Eight, 2020
The Service Station next to the hotel was already full of life when I pulled back the curtains of my room and let in the daylight. The fact that the sun was already in the sky told me that it would be a much later start for me than usual, which had everything to do with the brandy I’d been sipping on the night before. How much of the stuff I’d consumed, I could not say. But it had felt sophisticated at the time, and it had been joined by great company and chit chat, so it was all fair in my (bleary) eyes. I headed downstairs and joined Brian for breakfast in the restaurant. Two breakfasts in fact, because one wasn’t going to cut in the state I was in. I loaded up on two sizable wedges of tortilla with lashings of mayo, two tall glasses of orange juice and a couple of espressos also, turned syrupy with stick after stick of sugar. Suffice to say I was a much cheerier human being after all of that had been added to my belly and so headed back upstairs to finish readying my pack.
The journey to Tera to Villar de Farfón would be a very relaxed one by all accounts. At just nineteen kilometres or so it was one of the shortest days of the entire Camino, and so I took my time in setting off. I visited a small supermarket across the road from the hotel and stocked up on bananas, apples, pistachio nuts, a bag of M&M’s, a block of nut filled chocolate, bread and a sizable stick of chorizo also. I’m not certain that I really needed to stock up on so much food, but I have a feeling that the brandy from the night before was still influencing my decisions that day. Food shopping after a large night of drinking always throws up interesting grocery items in anyone’s basket I think.
I set off without Daan and headed back towards the Via, which we had stepped away from the previous afternoon. I was met by an elderly man on his bicycle by the side of the road who stopped to chew the fat with me. It didn’t seem to bother him that I wasn’t responding to him in any meaningful way, shape, or form, but he seemed to be enjoying the very one-sided conversation nonetheless. Whatever he was nattering away about seemed to be aggrieving him, and so I was happy when after five minutes or so he finally wished me a happy Camino and jumped back on his bike to pedal away.
I carried on my journey and quickly found myself once more removed from civilisation and walking alongside a river beneath autumn coloured trees and a heavy grey sky. The path alternated its way between forests and fields of tall corn that had recently been harvested. I considered pilfering a few stray cobs, to be enjoyed at a later date, but after my supermarket shop earlier that morning I really couldn’t justify the addition of any more food to my pack, so I refrained.
The forests and corn fields gave way to open farmland that had been dissected by a fast flowing canal of water and smaller veins of water hurrying along narrow concrete channels that cut up the landscape even further. I sat on a rock overlooking the freshly harvested fields and devoured the bag of M&M’s that I’d acquired earlier. It wasn’t a small bag either I might add. My rule with M&M’s is to begin by eating all of the brown ones, followed by the orange and then the green ones. This leaves you with a bowl of red, yellow and blue M&M’s, otherwise known as primary coloured goodness. My intention as I sat on the rock was simply to eat the brown ones from the bag, and return later for the orange ones, and then the green ones at another stop. And so on and so forth. But before I knew it the entire bag had been consumed and my gut growled uncomfortably as an unpleasant reminder of the fact. My eaters remorse kicked in quickly, helped along by the ill sensation enveloping my body. And so it was with a lot of effort that I forced myself away from the rock in a hurry to return myself to the true business of the day. The alternative was to curl up into a ball and slide into a sugar fuelled coma.
I wandered up into a small village where I met Daan sauntering down the lane. We greeted each other heartily, but both admitted that we could have done without so many beverages the night before. Away in the distance a honking horn pierced through the otherwise tranquil morning sounds and seemed to get louder and louder as the moments wore on. I couldn’t imagine any sort of road rage in such a small village and was confused as to what might have caused such an angry response from a driver. But eventually my bafflement was corrected when I realised that the honking horn was coming from a local bread supplier. He was driving ever so slowly through the village in his van and sounding the horn in advance to notify his customers. I smiled at the idea of a door-to-door bread service and thought of my good friend who had done something similar in South London throughout the Lockdown. Rather than waste away the hours in front of Netflix while stuck indoors she baked loaf after loaf of sourdough bread and then peddled it about the neighbourhood to friends and neighbours. It had become a fulltime enterprise by the end of the summer with its wares even making their way to my doorstep in faraway Hackney.
Daan and I walked together away from the village and eventually sat beside a small church to share a lunch together on a picnic bench. I certainly had comprehensive selection of foodstuffs for our picnic and Daan came with his own assortment of goodies. The sun finally made an appearance while we ate, but rather than being a welcome addition to the day it was still a little too much on the bright side for my tastes. I wasn’t particularly hungry at that point in the day, but I figured I needed something a little more nourishing in my belly than the sugar and e-numbers I’d just consumed in the M&M’s so I ate regardless. I was eager to keep moving though, such was my nervous energy, and so I continued on my way, eager to avert a post-sugar crash while Daan remained at the picnic table to get on top of his social-media obligations.
I worked up a sweat as I continued, fully immersed in sunshine at that point and challenged by what felt like a fairly decent climb. I’m sure that if I ever revisit the same path that same steep climb will seem like nothing more than a gentle slope, but such is the fickleness of perception, especially when alcohol has been involved. The landscape ahead of me was dominated by a massive dam and it provided a remarkably dramatic setting for the remainder of the afternoon. The dam itself needed to be crossed, and the deep waters behind it were so incredibly still that the clouds in the sky above reflected gloriously on the surface of the lake. Not even the slightest ripple disturbed the perfect synchronicity between the sky and water. It brought a smile to my face, as did seeing so much water before me after so many days journeying across such dry and barren landscapes.
As I continued walking I spotted the oddest faeces along the track, which I will forever regret not taking a photo of because they’re rather hard to describe. I know it seems odd to regret not taking photos of animal poop, but for good reason I wish I had a record of them. Mostly so that I had a record to show you, the reader, what strange objects I was encountering along the path. The poo was full of coarse hair you see, and the hair itself tapered away from the point of the faeces in a corkscrew formation. And there was a lot of this stuff about. I’m actually very surprised that I didn’t take a picture, considering all of the other mundane stuff that I was quite content to snap away at as I went.
Other than the mysteriously formed poop the path was uneventful and followed the gently meandering contours of the lake. The landscape was almost entirely silent, without any birdsong or even a breeze to rustle up a sound. All that could be heard were my footsteps on the path beneath me. I walked with a contented head while savouring the magnificent vista around me. I had been privy to so many wondrous landscapes during my Camino, and I was thankful that at no point had I taken any for granted. I was more thankful also that so many of them had pumped pure rushes of glee into my consciousness and overwhelmed me with a deep sense of joy. Perhaps it could be better described as bliss. Or dare I say it, even ecstasy.
It occurred to me then that the following day of my journey would mark four weeks since I’d set off from the cathedral in Seville. Four weeks that seemed like an absolute lifetime ago. It is a strange truth of the Camino that time has a way of warping itself into a form that means everything and nothing at the same time. And what I mean by that is that an hour can become an eternity in wet shoes that rub madly against your already engorged blisters. But by the same token a 40km day can begin and then be ended in a seeming matter of moments. A day might pack in so many wonderful features and details that it might feel like a week, and alternatively a week might disappear on you as if it were only a day. What I especially enjoyed when reflecting upon each day was the thought that each unknown destination very quickly became a known point of origin the following morning. They each launched me towards my next destination, and the next and the next. The perpetual nature of discovery generated a strange loop that was consistently unexplored but familiar nonetheless.
I wondered about the person who had left Seville all those weeks before and he suddenly seemed very unfamiliar to me. What an odd man he was, setting off to walk 1,000km without an awful lot of thought to what he was doing. What an even odder man he had become to normalise his endeavours so quickly, and remove himself so effortlessly from the real world beyond. Someone very different to the Jay who’d left Seville was making their way into Tera to Villar de Farfón that afternoon. Someone who had walked their way some six hundred kilometres beyond themselves. I felt that I was now a harder person, but somehow softer by the same token. And while my pack was certainly heavier than it had been when I left Seville I felt somehow lighter in comparison. There was a new ease to life that I had never experienced before, and a new expectation that everything was possible, and indeed very probable.
I arrived in Villar de Farfón at about 3.30pm in a magnificent state of calm. I found the albergue easily enough amongst the small cluster of seemingly forgotten buildings that made up the village. I was later to learn that other than the albergue owners there was only one other fulltime resident within the village, and for whatever reason he very much kept to himself and didn’t make himself known. The albergue host was a South African man who had formerly made his way through life as a missionary. The albergue had been bought as a ruin and then fortuitously rebuilt over the years with the help of God, or so my hosts narrative went. Our stories are what define us, and so I couldn’t begrudge my host that, but God was a theme that kept popping up into conversation, no matter what the topic, and so I was grateful for Daan’s eventual arrival to share some of the conversational load. God not being a particular conversational forte of mine.
Despite my discomfort at the religiosity of the conversations the albergue itself was wonderfully designed and styled and had clearly been rebuilt with a lot of care and attention to detail – right down to the fern growing within the stone in the shower. The space certainly imbued solace, peacefully resting as it did in the middle of nowhere. It’s outlook was farmland, farmland and more farmland, which was made all the more magical by the late afternoon sun which provided a golden glow and long reaching shadows. The theme of theology remained as the conversation between Daan and our host and so I slipped away to explore the empty village only to bump into Benedetta on the street as I turned the corner. It had only been two days since we’d seen each other but we greeted each other warmly nonetheless before she headed to the albergue and I continued my explorations. They were short and sweet because there wasn’t an awful lot to explore, but I drew them out regardless in the wish to limit my exposure to theological banter back at the albergue.
When I did return the sun was low in the sky and casting a wonderful charm over the world. Daan, Benedetta and I took ourselves outside to watch the sunset, despite the cold, when the topic of wolves came up. Our host mentioned that we might hear them after dark, which came as a surprise to us because none of us were aware that we were even in wolf country. The idea was both thrilling and alarming, especially considering our splendid isolation in the middle of nowhere. Our host assured us that there was nothing to be alarmed about, as the wolves kept to themselves, and were highly unlikely to attack a human. But, he added, we’d be sure to know they’d been present by the distinct shape of their poop. And then he went on to describe the oddly shaped faeces that I’d seen copious amounts of along the way that afternoon. Suffice to say I was excited to know that I’d encountered real life wolf poop, but gutted that I hadn’t taken a photo of the stuff to show my friends and family. I crossed my fingers that I’d stumble upon some the following day, so to speak, on my departure from Tera to Villar de Farfón.
Dinner was cooked by our host, which was washed down with a delicious bottle of red wine. The three of us chatted away at the large dinner table while keeping an ear out for our canine friends beyond the stone walls of the albergue. But to no avail. We were (unfortunately) not harassed by anything other than sleepiness as we finished our wine and finally readied ourselves for bed. We took ourselves off to our shared room in high spirits bundled up against the cold to sleep.