When you walk across an entire country as I did, you start to get a sense for the diversity of landscapes within our world, the way they transition from one to another and indeed shape the way we live in the world.
Few of us travel these sorts of distances overland and fewer still have opportunity to pay attention to the details. It’s unimaginable that anyone would walk from the hill country of Austin, TX, to the arid plains of El Paso – a trip of approximately the same length as the Camino. Even driving from the fields of northern Missouri to the Ozark mountains of the south is rarely experienced thanks to our interstate highway system.
Indeed, it’d be relatively easy to make a cross country American road-trip with little regard for the vastly different landscapes whipping by at 70mph.
Walking at a clip of 5km per hour is a vastly different experience. Every change in elevation, climate, livestock production, and general wealth is keenly observed.
My journey started in the French Pyrenees: think – chalets, sheep, deep but narrow vistas. I then passed through wine country, Rioja: wide verdant vineyards, sleepy villages, and rolling hills. Now, I found myself on la meseta: the dusty plain separating the east and west and among the poorest regions in the country despite the river of Euros flowing from pilgrims pockets.
As our energy and endurance leveled so too did the landscape. The excitement of steep inclines, dangerous descents, new friends, and unexplored expectations gave way to an inevitable daily grind: how many kilometers can I get in today, where’s the next fuente, what’s the most desirable albergue?
Most albergues are operated by the city or church and honestly are pretty much all the same. When an albergue has an alternative management structure they’re usually worth paying attention to. That’s why I chose to drop my pack in Boadilla, where the centro de turismo rural operated an albergue. Around a central park-like courtyard complete with swimming pool and fountain several low slung stone buildings provided accommodation for 58.
Though arriving relatively early in the day, I was only able to secure one of the last mats that would be rolled out in the living room at lights out.
In the meantime, I plopped myself on the grass in the shade of 60 pairs of socks drying on the line and started reading the one English book I could find: a young reader’s edition of Moby Dick.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Lise – the Dutch nurse I had befriended several villages ago – and a Canadian woman approaching. Over the course of two weeks of increasingly intense hiking, I’d developed blisters the size of golf balls. Lise and the Canadian woman – needle, iodine, and gauze in hand – were determined to heal me of my increasingly visible deformity.
Though I usually prefer to let these things run their natural course, I acquiesced based primarily on the argument that it would be pretty gross if they burst in my boots.
After a little minor surgery, and plenty of tsk-tsking from French grandmothers, it was time for dinner (the English and Italians were here too!) and another day on the the meseta.