Villar de Farfón to Entrepeñas
Friday October Nine, 2020
There are substances in this world that help to give us a little kick and take us away from ourselves for moments or hours (or days) at a time. Some, such as alcohol and tobacco, are government sanctioned and for the better part socially permitted, within reason. Others are a little more obscure and sit in the shadier realm society where they are chastised to various degrees. These substances are the ones with the edgier kick to them, and for that reason the ones that provide the greatest highs. The problem with such highs however is the inevitable low that follows, not to mention the question of legality and the often obstacle of cost. So, how chuffed was I when I got to ride out the better part of a day in a joyous state of ecstasy with not a single substance in sight. My bliss came courtesy of the Via alone, which fed me with endless quantities of stimulation, awe, wonder and endorphins. The high was very, very real, and very, very satisfying.
To kick it all off the morning light was magical. Even more so than the dozen or so other magical mornings that I’d already experienced along my Camino. The sky was on fire above us and the air was fresh and biting cold around us. Benedetta walked alongside me, keeping up with my long strides and keeping the morning bright with lively conversation. We walked with pace to try and warm ourselves up as quickly as possible, and possibly to distance ourselves as quickly as possible with yet another theological conversation that our albergue host had struck up upon our departure. Daan remained behind us, willingly engaged in the biblical banter, but it was an exchange that I was only too happy to leave behind me. And so Benedetta and I strolled on, in high spirits, while the long, dry grass in the fields around us glowed golden with the rising sun.
We bounced along the path quite merrily, nattering away between ourselves, until we stopped for a second breakfast at Rionegra del Puente. We sat ourselves down on the terrace outside of Bar Palacio in the still not warm morning air and waited for Daan to arrive. He eventually joined us at our table and the three of us chatted some more as the day finally began to warm up. I ordered an espresso with my jamón and cheese bocadillo, and was enjoying the return of caffeine to my life so much that I ordered a second cup before my departure. Not because it was tasty. No, it really was awful stuff. But I ordered the second cup because in its awfulness there was a strange satisfaction, not to mention a pleasant reminder that I was in Spain.
I was the first to stand, reposition my pack on my back and leave the terrace to set off on the path alone. Benedetta was in no hurry to return to the path and rolled another cigarette to share with her coffee. Daan was holding back as well, but his hesitation to return to the track was because his walking had become uncomfortable with shin splints. I proceeded with a boisterous energy, courtesy of the two espressos I’d just drunk in such quick succession. Their enthusiastic consumption possibly had a lot to do with the high that I rode for the remainder of the morning also, not that I was complaining. The high was encouraged by the landscape around that had become something more akin to a dreamscape, with a deep path leading forward through long dry grass. Tall metal pylons framed the setting with their industrial bulk, looking particularly out of place in the otherwise soft beige landscape. And further off in the distance a line of hills provided a hazy blue-grey backdrop to it all. If I’d wanted to film an alien landscape for an episode of Star Trek then this setting would certainly have done the trick. In the hazy morning light I wouldn’t even have needed filters to suggest the otherworldliness of it all.
I put on a playlist that a friend of mine from London had sent me. It was a random choice, but the deep bass and euphoric crescendos within the selected electronic tracks were the perfect accompaniment to my journey, and so my high just kept riding higher. I was practically buzzing by the time I finally arrived in Mombuey, which coincided nicely with noon and a good excuse for lunch. I sat outside in the sunshine at one of the many bars in the village and ordered food and a couple of bottles of 0% beer. Benedetta caught me up and together we ate and drank, and soaked up what little warmth the afternoon sun had to offer. As we ate I spied a hawk high above the village moving through the air, followed by another and another. The sight of so many birds of prey moving through the sky seemed ominous, and added to the dreamlike quality of the morning that had just been completed.
(And if you’re curious about what a flock of hawks is called there’s no need to approach Google for answers. The word is kettle – a kettle of hawks.)
I phoned Daan to see how far back he was, and whether or not he would join us, but his shin splints had become unbearable, and he had decided instead to catch a bus to Puebla de Sanabria where he intended to rest up for a couple of days. I felt a bit bummed for him that he was in so much pain. I knew that he was obviously feeling a great deal of discomfort to succumb to continuing the journey on wheels, and I hoped that it was just a temporary blip and that his body bounced back sooner rather than later. In any case, I would catch him up the following day in Puebla de Sanabria.
Benedetta and I continued on our way together before I moved on ahead through more wonderfully magical landscapes. Dense wooded areas lined the sides of my path only for the track to reappear in healthy looking farmland. Then the woods would consume me once more, just to keep things interesting. I passed by three villages as I went, and they all had a distinctly abandoned feel to them. Ancient stone dwellings sat in various states of disrepair and were overcome with damp and moss. The laneways were deathly quiet also, without even the usual bevy of stray cats roaming through them, which you’d otherwise expect from such a village. That said, the occasional smell of a wood fire crept into my nostrils as I walked through each one, suggesting that habitation was happening somewhere within them.
Entrepeñas felt like another deserted village to me as I arrived. A collection of ruined farmhouses greeted me at the perimeter, and when I moved within things didn’t get much livelier. There was no sign of life in the streets, and no sounds from within the shuttered buildings that framed the narrow lanes either. I did a circuit of the village three times over before I finally found the guest house that Benedetta and I were staying in that night, such was its nondescript appearance. I messaged our hostess on my phone to say that I’d arrived, and she pulled up five minutes later in a car across the laneway. The car was a jarring touch of modernity to the village and seemed strangely anachronistic sitting there before me. My hostess’ English was limited, but that did not subdue her enthusiasm at all as she showed me around the building. Any word that failed to come to her was pressed and pressed, and pressed some more, until it finally made its way past the tip of her tongue. I admired her dedication to speaking English for me, as well as her persistence with a notoriously difficult language. I wished that I had the same level of stubbornness when it came to following through on Spanish.
Before she left our hostess produced a shopping bag full of tomatoes for Benedetta and I to enjoy. Tomatoes like I had never seen before. The size of them beggared belief and I was only too keen to open the bag up and place one of the mighty beasts in my hand. It weighed a figurative tonne. Our hostess told me the name of the variety and explained that it translated to ‘Heart of the Calf’, which is certainly what it looked like and subsequently felt like in my hand. I thanked her for the offering, which it felt like in more ways than one, and said my goodbyes as she left.
I knew that Benedetta wouldn’t be too far behind me and so I rummaged through my pack to unearth the various bits of produce that had collected there over the previous few days. Bread. Check. Chorizo. Check. Cheese. Check. (Although don’t ask me what condition it was in after any number of days without refrigeration). And so with the addition of my ‘Heart of the Calf’ tomato I set about making sandwiches for myself and Benedetta, to place under the grill of the oven and serve up as an afternoon snack. Benedetta’s arrival couldn’t have been timed more perfectly and she turned up at the doorstep just as I was taking the grilled sandwiches out from under the heat. We partnered the sandwiches with cold beer from the fridge that cost us €1 each, to be placed in an honesty box, and sat to enjoy our pre-dinner snack.
We had arranged for our hostess to pick us up later in the evening and drive us to a restaurant in a nearby village for dinner. In the meantime we still had some daylight up our sleeves and so decided to visit the landscape around the edges of the village. And boy am I glad that we did. Having no prior knowledge of what we might find I was completely delighted to discover that the village rested on the edge of a large water reservoir. A water reservoir that was rather low on said water. It meant that as we walked we made our way deeper and deeper into the depths of the valley where once we would have needed a boat. Benedetta decided to stay with the late afternoon sun, but I wanted to explore the alien looking world within the reservoir and so continued on into the shaded realm below. The temperature dropped quickly, but my spirit soared at the prospect of such a weird and wonderful landscape.
Grass grew beneath my feet, suggesting that water had not reached the higher levels of the reservoir for quite some time. But as I wandered deeper the grass gave way to a grey coloured clay that I wasn’t overly keen on wandering too deeply into. Something had made a path through the clay ahead of me nonetheless and the paw prints resembled that of a dog. A very, very large dog. An improbably large dog. Which meant that my thoughts went straight back to wolves again. Suffice to say the thought both excited and terrified me, especially seeing as the sun was close to setting and darkness was beginning to creep into the day. I ventured deeper and deeper into the reservoir nonetheless and got trigger happy with my camera, relishing the strange contours and features of a landscape that would otherwise be under water.
Eventually the chill of the early evening air got too much for me, even in my bundled up state, so I headed back towards the village where I found Benedetta sitting in the last little scrap of sunlight. We walked back to the village together where Benedetta struck up a conversation with three elderly women sitting out on the steps of one of their homes. I had no idea what was being said, but it was a lively conversation for sure. One of the women disappeared into the house before reappearing with two small pots of ointment that she began proudly describing to us. Benedetta translated the woman’s enthusiasm for me, explaining that she was a local medicine woman and that she made ointments from herbs and plants that she found growing locally around the village. She had an ointment for this ailment and that condition, and she merrily listed each of the ingredients that played their part in her concoctions. Each balm smelt incredible, and so by the end of a very long interaction between Benedetta and the medicine woman both Benedetta and I had walked away with a couple of tubs of ointment each. My two tubs were for pain, and each had the word ‘Dolor’ handwritten in permanent marker on the lid. The content inside was a chartreuse colour consisting of bees wax, olive oil and a combination of local plants and herbs to ease away my physical discomforts. The paste smelt of cinnamon, ginger and cookie dough. Suffice to say it was pleasing to the nose, and part of me almost wanted to believe it was edible. But I stuck to rubbing it over the tender surfaces of my body instead, which was a therapeutic experience in its own right.
Our hostess came to pick us up at 7.30pm and we climbed into her car to be driven to the nearby village of Asturianos for dinner. The simple act of positioning myself through a car door seemed to have been long forgotten by my body and I awkwardly clambered into the backseat. I found myself clumsily resting in a seated position that felt instantly alien to me. The car crawled out of the village slowly and carefully, such were the narrow lanes, but then suddenly we were on open road and travelling at a speed that had been long forgotten by me. The world beyond the car flew past us in a blur and offered up a reminder of the speed at which the real world operated by. The disjointed sensation that our new mode of transport offered up was further heightened by the fact that the distance to the restaurant took less than ten minutes in the car. The following morning it would take me at least half an hour to travel the same route. That said, I took a Shania Twain approach to the convenience of speed and thought to myself “That don’t impress me much”. Give me back my gentle two-footed amble any day, please.
The restaurant in Asturianos was run by a husband and wife team who offered up simple but delicious fare to our table. We washed our meals down with red wine and spent our time glued to the television set hung high on the wall of the restaurant. It was streaming endless content of live news with a grim tone that even I could translate. Benedetta filled me in on the details and explained that Spain was inching closer and closer to a new crisis point in its battle with Covid-19. Region after region and city after city were discussing the very real potential for going into full lockdown once more. Each news reader stood and narrated the state of the nation on darkened boulevards in front of empty restaurants and terraces where once there would have been throngs of diners. Our host and his wife would chime in and offer their own misgivings to Benedetta who would then translate back to me what had been said. In the fatigue of the day she would turn to be and repeat everything that had been seen, but in fluent Spanish rather than in English for my benefit. It would take her a couple of sentences each time before she realised her gaff and would course correct herself while I sat amused by her mistake.
Once dinner was finished our host drove us back to Entrepeñas in a fast-forwarded transit that would need to be repeated the following morning by foot. The day’s thirty kilometre walk had caught up with me by then and I was only too eager to climb into the warmth of the big double bed back at the guest house. Despite the tone of the 24-hour news cycle back in the restaurant I was still riding a high as I shut my eyes. I’d walked with perhaps the best sunrise of my journey so far, and journeyed over a landscape befitting a Sci-Fi film, not to mention plumbed the depths of a nearly dry water reservoir that offered up its own alien-esque formations. I’d shared in the wonderful company of both Benedetta and Daan, and witnessed a kettle of hawks for the first time in my life. And of course I’d encountered a local medicine woman, whose ointments I was happy to imagine resembling magic elixirs for any ailment imaginable. It had been a full day, there was no doubt about it. And it had been a generously satisfying day also, and so sleep came upon me almost instantaneously as a result.